Posted by: Vallere | October 31, 2011

Melbourne

My Mother in Law, kids, and I were supposed to fly out of Wellington on Sunday morning, very early, so I thought the best course of action would be to drive down on Saturday, spend the afternoon in Te Papa, enjoy a hotel room for the night, and have a nice, short drive to the airport. Well, the first part of my plan went off without a hitch. We spent a lovely afternoon exploring Te Papa. My MIL really enjoyed the exhibits, and loved watching the kids play in all of the exploration areas. We got a nice hotel room and actually all got to bed at a fairly decent hour, though Ceirdwyn didn’t seem to want to sleep much. We were up bright and early…well before sun-up…to drive to the airport. And that’s where things started to go downhill.

We found out in Wellington that MIL’s ticket had been booked with no checked bags, and she had to pay an over-priced fee to check her bag. Wrangling all three kids was also a chore…it was WAY too early for them to be up and they were NOT in a good mood. It was rather stormy in Wellington that day, so takeoff was rough. That didn’t bode well for MIL, who has serious motion sickness issues. Otherwise, the flight wasn’t too terrible.

We arrived in Auckland and had a REALLY long layover. We were going to be spending most of the day there. We ate and found a play area for the kids. My MIL napped a bit while they played. When we got to our 2-hours-before-takeoff window we went to check in. The line was long and the kids were not sitting still. We got up to the counter and I found out that we “weren’t allowed to enter Australia because we didn’t have visas.” I think I must have turned completely white (not that I’m not already about as pale as you can get). MIL had already checked in with no issues, so I was completely blind sided by this. I thought that having a vacation visa was something I would have had to get back in the US and that we were now stuck in Auckland with no way to get back to Wanganui and no way to get to Australia and and and… I think the man behind the counter must have realized what a tailspin he put me in because he quickly let me know that I could buy visas THERE at the airport. It would only cost us $30 per person (that’s $120, y’all). It took another half hour or so for them to get the visas into our passports and we were finally ready to go through security. At that point we were informed that we had to fill out exit sheets. That took up another 20 minutes or so. Finally on to the x-ray machines, where there was another long line, and we always need extra time for security checks because Zollie’s meds have to be hand checked. By the time we made it out of security we had to literally RUN to get to the gate. They started boarding about a minute after we walked up. I’ve never been so relieved in my life!

Once on the plane, we found out seats, stowed our things, and buckled in. And waited. And waited. Eventually we were told that there were a couple of planes ahead of us and that we would be departing “shortly.” I think “shortly” doesn’t mean the same thing to a pilot as it does to a mother who has a 1 yo strapped to her with one of those idiotic infant-seatbelts. (Spin-off: Seriously, what is WITH those?? They dont’ stay tight, and honestly, if I was in a crash, I would rather her be in the mei tai. It is infinitely more secure than that dumb seatbelt!) Finally we got up into the air, almost an hour behind schedule. We were then informed that the flight, which was supposed to take about 3 hours, was going to now take over 4 hours because of a very strong headwind. I think that might have been the very moment that my sanity began to break.

Keep in mind that we were supposed to arrive at the airport before The Doc, his dad and sister, and were supposed to get our bags and then go wait at their gate for them to arrive. At this point we would be arriving about an hour and a half  AFTER them. Ug.

Finally, eventually, at about 11pm, we arrived in Melbourne. The boys had slept a bit on the plane, but Ceirdwyn didn’t which means that I didn’t either. Everyone was a whiney mess as we made our way to Customs. When we got there, we discovered that we had no contact info while we were in the country. I had no idea what hotel we were supposed to stay in. After some negotiation and tears (literally, y’all…I cried in front of the Customs officer) he said I could put down The Doc’s cell number. Whew. We were through!

I went to an information desk to find out what time The Doc’s flight had arrived. We had hoped he would figure out we were late and come to our gate, but he was not there. I finally decided that we should just go to where he told us to go int he first place, and lo and behold, there was The Doc, smiling and walking towards us! Since my wedding day I don’t think I’ve been more relieved to see that man in the place where he was supposed to be. I think my first words to him were something like, “I will NEVER fly with these kids again without you!” Anyway, we found FIL and SIL and then had to figure out transportation. That took another hour or so and by this time it was about 1am. The kids were a mess. I was a mess. I just wanted to lay down somewhere! There is more to this story, but it involves me totally losing my cool and acting in a horrible manner for which I have apologized, so let’s just jump ahead to the good part…we FINALLY made it to our room!

We stayed in a neat little apartment type place. We had a suite and next door were MIL, FIL and SIL. We crashed. Hard. The next morning, we walked down the street to a grocery store and bought enough food for the three days we would be there. On Monday, we drove out to a Fairy Penguin colony. You can sit on bleachers by the beach and at sunset, the penguins come ashore and waddle across the dunes to get to their burrows. They are so. cute! But we couldn’t take pictures of them because the flash would scare them. I do have one picture from inside the info center, which I believe sums up the way everyone was feeling after Sunday’s ordeal:

We spent the next day exploring Melbourne. My MIL really wanted to see where The Doc had lived and gone to school when he spent a semester at the University of Melbourne back in 1999. We walked around town, saw the amazing market place, walked by his old apartment, and toured the campus. It was quite chilly, but a really lovely city. One place The Doc showed us was a mall. The mall was built around an old building which I believe was some sort of mill. In the center of the mall, the old building still stands – it’s quite odd to see a building within a building!

Just across from the old building was the thing we REALLY came to the mall to see. The singing clock. My MIL’s favourite song is “Waltzing Matilda” because her father used to sing it to her often. When The Doc was first in Melbourne, he told his mother that there was a clock that sings “Waltzing Matilda” every hour – so we knew we had to see it.

On the hour, the clocked opened up and played the song, while the parts moved and danced. It was fantastic! (and that’s a big clock, too! That rail it is in front of is the guard rail for the balcony, so that’s probably 3 feet high, making the clock 10ft+ in diameter).

While in Melbourne, we also went to the zoo because MIL and FIL didn’t want to leave Australia without having seen a real, live kangaroo! And they were not disappointed! The kangaroo/emu area of the zoo was an open format. You just walked through the gate into that area, and all of the roos and emus were free roaming. You could get right up next to them!

And some of the other neat animals we got to see:

An echidna – one of the VERY few egg laying mammals!

Terribly adorable koala!

kookaburra - if you’ve never heard a kookaburra laugh, click here.

Before we said goodbye to both Melbourne AND my in-laws, we took a few last pictures of Melbourne at night. This is a shot of a mini Eiffle Tower that is all lit up.

We had such a fantastic time with The Doc’s family, and we are so blessed that they got to come see us and stay as long as they did! It was so hard saying goodbye at the airport (and also very rushed, as they had an early flight and we were running a bit behind.) We praise God that we had a wonderful visit and that everyone got home safely.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Vallere | September 10, 2011

The Red Center, errr Centre

~~PG is today’s guest poster! He writes about his trip with his father and sister to Uluru.~~

Well, despite living in such a beautiful country and having so much yet to see, it has always been one of my father’s dreams to visit the red centre of Australia, the outback.  So when my folks were over we spent nearly two weeks making the jump over the Tasman to Australia and of course the first thing we knocked out was to visit Uluru-Kata-Tjuta national park, a place I had been to once before.  Now, the flight took nearly 6 hours from Wellington, NZ as we traveled through Sydney.  While over the desert, in the air and on the ground, things looked quite different from what I remembered.  Many of the usually dry river beds flowed with water from the heavy rains.  Apparently this desert area had gotten heavier rains over the last 18 months than it had seen in decades, and the Red Centre appeared to be quite green other than the red soil.  Flowers were blooming everywhere and wildlife was quite visable.  Now, as we only planned to spend a few days here, we had much to do, but limited time before we were to fly down to Victoria and Melbourne.  I had unfortunately assumed that the school holidays in Australia would be similar to the ones in New Zealand, but I was mistaken as we ran into quite a crowd of vacationing families.  Despite this, the weather was quite cooperative as it was quite chilly during the day and as such we attempted to make a few hikes.  The first was to the Valley of the Winds.

I figured my father could handle this one as it had only a  little climbing and it was quite cool and windy.  We really enjoyed it, but he struggled to make it around the circuit and the hike took several hours.  None the less, it was quite red and beautiful and an experience I am sure he will never forget.

After that he was beat for the next day or more and my sister and I visited the cultural centre and walked around Uluru.  We choose not to climb it out of respect of the local people as they asked you not to do so.  There is already a scar on the sacred rock from the millions that have visited and climbed it and I have always found it quite sad and disgraceful that others travel this far to climb on top of a big rock that others consider sacred.  The local people (the Aborigines) did it as a right of passage and without chains or ropes being planted into the side of the rock as now exists.

Between the hiking we all lanquished in the local cafes and took part in numerous meals including tasting some kangaroo, emu ,and other local meats over the barbie.  We made sure to be present and awake to watch the sunrises and sunsets during these several days as these can often be quite breath taking between the red sunlight and red soil everywhere.    Despite the fun hikes , the combination of peak time and the very high Australia dollar made these several days cost nearly two grand US dollars and I was quite glad to get out of there after several days as it was quite expensive for what we recieved.  I honestly would have enjoyed camping as much or more as the hotel was quite basic for the $AU425 a night price tag but did not want to do this as my father was present.  After several days it was off to Alice Springs for the morning and then onto Adelaide and finally Melbourne, where we would be staying for the coming days.

The second Sunday our family was here, we drove up River Road with the intention of seeing Ruapehu and maybe hiking one of the trails on it up to a waterfall. We went to church first thing that morning, came home and grabbed lunch, and then got on the road. The Doc’s driving was making everyone carsick, so they begged asked me to drive. River Road is incredibly curvy, and a good portion of it is one lane (including some bridges). Parts of it aren’t sealed. It’s a tough road to drive on with blind curves, a sheer cliff on one side that rocks could fall from at any moment, and a sheer drop to the river below on the other side. But all its danger and the stress of driving it are more than made up for by the amazing views:

There is one part of the drive where you are just going around and around, in and out of hills, for what seems like forever. And just when you think you’ll never get to the mountain, you come around and bend and BAM! there it is, just staring you in the face. It’s an awesome view, especially now with them all covered in ice. You could so clearly see Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro.

So, like I said, I was driving. And, in order to keep folks from puking (my MIL gets SUPER carsick) I was going pretty slow with all the curves. We ended up getting into Ohakune later than we anticipated, and drove up the mountain to the carpark beside the trail we wanted to go on. The hike was supposed to be pretty easy, with an hour and a half return. We figured we’d be cutting it close, but should definately get back before the sun was down. There was snow in patchy areas, and it was pretty chilly, but walking always warms you up, so we grabbed our coats, I put Ceirdwyn in the mei tai and we set off on the trail.

The first part of the trail was just beautiful, with amazing views of the mountain peak, and there were a couple of bridges across streams flowing down from the mountain.

About 20 or 25 minutes into the walk, FIL was really feeling winded. He’s got some health issues so we didn’t want to push him too hard. He found a bench to sit on, and said he would just wait for us to return. I hate he missed the rest of the view we got, but I don’t know that he would have made it without a ton of difficulty, so I hope the pictures will be good enough for him! There were some amazing, HUGE trees growing up the side of the mountain…

… but we quickly got up past the tree line into an area that was very tundra like. I could imgine that, if we were still in North America, I would see elk grazing.

We got closer and closer to the waterfall, but it was clear that the sun was already starting to go down. And my MIL was losing steam quickly. There were parts of the trail that SIL was just kinda pulling her along ;)

We finally got to a point where The Doc said, “We will walk 15 more minutes. Even if we aren’t to the falls yet, we are turning around or we won’t make it out before dark.”

The boys were troopers and they just trudged right along. We got to the end of the trail, and it was a long staircase down to the base of the falls. MIL didn’t think she could make it back up the stairs, so she got a little view of the falls from about halfway down. The Doc, SIL and I left the boys with her and ran down to see the falls. They were really pretty, but the stress of knowing we were losing light kind of overshadowed the enjoyment of them. We had about 2 minutes to look and take pictures, and then we had to start out.

We walked on at as fast a pace as everyone could handle, and with each step, the light got dimmer and dimmer. We made it back across the “tundra” walkway, and back into the treeline with another gorgeous, sunset view:

Darker and darker…we finally made it back to where FIL was waiting. He was quite cold by now as he had just been sitting. We resisted the urge to sit and rest ourselves, and kept walking. It was slow going. Some parts of the trail were getting icy, especially the bridges. Twilight is just a hard time to see anything, and there were a few trips and slips, but thankfully, no one was hurt. By the time we made it back to the first bridge, it was nearly completely dark. It didn’t help that there was no moon. We were holding hands to keep everyone on the trail because you couldn’t see anyone more than 5 feet in front of you. The Doc was pondering whether we should just sit down and stay put till morning, when SIL pulled out a pair of lighters and said, ” Nobody better ever give me grief about smoking again!”

Those little lights were just enough to see the remainder of the path and get us to our car safely. We climbed inside, blasted the heat, and said “never again!” to starting a hike that close to evening.

I can see it now…front page news…stupid American family heads out into the bush with small kids, no flashlights, and no supplies…*sigh*

So that’s the story of how we tackled Ruapehu and just barely escaped.

Posted by: Vallere | July 19, 2011

Inlaw Adventures

We had such a busy and fun time with my mother in law (MIL), father in law (FIL) and sister in law (SIL) the past three weeks! We did so many things that I had to go back and look through my pictures to try to remember what order we did things in!

One of the first things we did, after letting them catch up on sleep, was to head to Virginia Lake and walk the circuit around it. Ian was so excited to show his Mimi, Granddaddy and Auntie Ann the talking cockatoos (complete with Kiwi accents) in the aviary, the pukeko and coots wandering around the lake, and the gorgeous swans. My MIL was especially struck by the swans. At Virginia lake, we have black swans which come from Australia. They are huge and almost completely black – not what you expect from a swan! But they are just beautiful!

The rest of the week we did our mostly-normal activities like playgroups, gym class, and Mainly Music. Everyone joined us for one of the playgroups and gym class, where they were excited to watch Ian walk the balance beam and do summersaults. Zollie and Ceirdwyn got in on the action as well, playing on the floor and equipment that the “big kids” weren’t using.

We only had one real weekend in New Zealand with everyone (they arrived on a Saturday and that Sunday was Ceirdwyn’s birthday party), so we tried to pack in as much sightseeing as we could.

On Saturday, we decided to head  up to Waitomo. There are a series of caves there with glowworms in them. SIL especially thought that was pretty neat. We called ahead and booked tours through three of the caves and were told it was about a 3 hour drive. Well…it was really more of a 4 hour drive, which turned into almost a 5 hour drive once the kids decided they needed to stop for snacks and a few potty breaks. By the time we arrived we had to drop the longest tour from our plans, but we were still able to take in the Glowworm cave as well as the Aranui tour.

We passed by some spectacular views of snow-topped Taranaki on the way there. And note how GREEN this place is, even in mid-winter!

I think this was the first time any of my inlaws had been through caves, and they were glorious. I wish I had pictures of the glowworms (which are the larval stage of an insect – they bioluminesce to attract the moths they eat), but no photography was allowed as they live in the pitch dark parts of the caves. You can go here  ,however, to see how neat they look!

Here are some shots from the other areas of the caves:

Here is one showing the exit to the Glowworm Cave. You ride a boat out the stream running through it. It’s very interesting being in a boat in the pitch blackness of a cave!

After we were done with the caves, we found a short hike through the woods we wanted to check out. MIL and FIL stayed with the kids in the warm car while The Doc, SIL and I explored for a bit. We found some neat little caves along the trail, and a really pretty stream!

We made our ride back home, and I think everyone really enjoyed the trip. I know we all slept well that night!

There are plenty of more adventures to come, so stay tuned!

Posted by: Vallere | July 18, 2011

Three weeks in a flash!

Wow! What an insanely busy past few weeks we’ve had! My inlaws stayed with us for two weeks, and during that time we went on a good number of adventures. I can’t wait to tell you about them! At the end of their stay, my father in law, sister in law, and The Doc went down to Australia to spend a couple of days exploring Uluru. My mother in law, the kids and I joined them in Melbourne when they were done, and we had MORE adventures! Then they flew home, and The Doc, the kids and I went on to Tasmania where we had some AMAZING adventures! You won’t believe some of the pictures we took!

We just got home to Wanganui this morning after three plane rides and a night spent sleeping in spurts on couches in the airport terminal. I’m black and blue from the waist down (that story is a whole blog post in itself), I’m jet lagged (it’s amazing that just a 2 hour time difference can do that to you), I’m sore, I’m about a week behind on laundry, and my mind is racing. So much has happened in just three weeks that it might take me a couple of days to get the pics downloaded and get my thoughts together enough to actually blog it in detail.

So hang with me! There’s plenty more to come!

(Spoiler alert! Ceirdwyn got to pet a kangaroo! And I’ve got the pics to prove it!)

Posted by: Vallere | June 26, 2011

Icky Illnesses, Ash Clouds, and Bunny Rabbits

Wow, what a busy few weeks we’ve had! A couple of weeks ago, I came down with the flu. So, so miserable. Luckily I started getting sick on a Friday, and The Doc was a trooper and took care of all the kids all weekend so I could sleep it off. I think I got pretty dehydrated – I was still nursing the baby quite a bit,  yet didn’t want to eat or drink anything – and I know that slowed down my recovery. But, by Tuesday or so, I was feeling much more normal. The Doc’s parents and sister were supposed to be flying into Auckland this past Friday morning, and The Doc had already taken Friday off work. Unfortuantely, Wednesday night he came down with the flu, too. He ended up staying home on Thursday and sleeping most of the day, and we just prayed that he would feel well enough on Friday to fly up to Auckland and make the 6 hour drive back to Wanganui with his family.

To complicate things more, Thursday night we got a call that their flight had been diverted to Sydney, Australia due to the ash cloud from the volcano in Chile, and the plan was for them to fly in Saturday morning instead. We were so sad to hear that they would miss a whole day to spend with us, but The Doc did get an extra day to recover, and he really needed it.

Then, a miracle occured! Friday night, we were checking on their flight status, and saw that the flight had been canceled again. We were just devistated. We ckecked all the airlines to see if anyone was still flying, and the only flights we could find were for late Saturday night or Sunday morning. Ceirdwyn’s birthday was Saturday and her party was planned for Sunday – the thought that they would miss her entire birthday, especially since they had planned their trip just to be here in time for it, was devistating. We said a prayer and went to bed with the phone beside the bed so that we wouldn’t miss their call when they found out their flight was canceled again.

At 2am, the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law saying they were in Auckland! We couldn’t believe it!!! So Saturday morning, we drove The Doc to the airport at 6am so he could catch a flight up to Auckland and drive them back down. They made it here in time for dinner on Saturday night! I think the boys hugged them for 30 minutes straight when they walked through the door.

Fast forward to this afternoon – Ceirdwyn’s birthday party! I’ve always called her my little bunny. From the time she was hopping around in my belly, it’s just been my name for her. Then, she cut her top teeth first (just like Zollie did) and the name really took on new meaning. I planned a bunny rabbit birthday party :)

I made carrot cake cupcakes that looked like bunny rabbits. Here are the action shots:

Carrot cake is best made with 1/2 carrot and 1/2 crushed pineapple. *nod*

Cooling on the rack – my house smelled SO GOOD!

Cream cheese icing might be the most delicious thing on earth.

A quick dip in some finely ground coconut for a “furry” effect…

Add some chocolate chips for the eyes and nose, chocolate syrup for the mouth, and vanilla wafers for ears, and the bunny comes to life!

Multiply by 30 (hey, the are rabbits after all!)

Then it was time to party down! A few friends joined us and we had a wonderful time! Here’s the beautiful bunny birthday girl!

 Ceirdwyn didn’t quite know what to do with her cupcake at first…

…but she quickly figured it out.

My inlaws got their first taste of Hokey Pokey ice cream…

…and then it was time to open gifts!

 

Daddy's girl :)

 On my first birthday, I got a doll that I named Heidi. She was my very favorite doll my whole childhood. I was so happy to be able to pass her on to Ceirdwyn on her first birthday!

We had such a wonderful time today! Ceirdwyn got tons of beautiful clothes, fun toys, and another very special handmade dollie from her Gammy. We are feeling so blessed that my inlaws made it here safely (even if their suitcases are still stuck in Sydney) and that they got to be here for Ceirdwyn’s birthday!

Posted by: Vallere | June 4, 2011

Friday’s Flipside Five – Annoyances

It might seem, by reading my blog, that New Zealand is all bunnies and buttercups and chocolate. And, in many ways, it is. But I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that I have no complaints. There are definitely things here that are taking some getting used to, some things that I do miss about America, and some things that are just downright annoying. Here are five of those things:

1) Duvets

I truly despise duvets with every fiber of my soul. They are quite possibly the most annoying things ever invented and I honestly can’t understand why people here use them instead of just a quilt of comforter. For those who aren’t quite sure what a duvet is, it’s sort of like a comforter, except instead of the stuffing and fabric being sewn together to make one complete piece, in a duvet, the stuffing is a single piece, and the fabric slips over it like a pillowcase would a pillow.

I know that it sounds like it would be a good idea. Instead of trying to wash the entire comforter (which rarely ever fits well into a washer) you just slip the cover off and wash it – it’s the same as washing a sheet, really. And it would be easier to change the decor of the room. Don’t like the color of your bedspread? Just swap out the duvet cover.

But. And there is a BIG but here. BUT, once you put on the duvet cover, you just snap up the open end, and there is nothing at all to keep the stuffing piece in place. I can’t tell you how many nights I wake up freezing because somehow the stuffing got all wadded up in one side of the duvet cover and I’m lying there under just a thin sheet. And then you have to take the whole thing apart and shake it to get it straightened out.

Seriously, Kiwis…comforters. Or quilts. Or even afgans. But not the duvets!

2) Store hours

I know this is just something I’m not used to, and I’m sure if I had lived here since childhood I would be, but in New Zealand, stores just aren’t open as much as I’d like them to be. When 5 o’clock rolls around, things close. People here work to live instead of living to work like they do in the States, and I do love this lifestyle, but I have to wonder how a family with two working parents gets any shopping done. Stores seriously close at 5pm on the dot. The only things that are open later than that are the grocery stores (the latest of which stays open till 10pm – a far cry from out 24 hour Food Lions!), the Warehouse (which closes at 8pm – no 3am Wally World runs for college kids here!) and places to eat.

3) The right of way rule

I’ve mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating. In New Zealand, the right of way goes to the person turning right over the person turning left. In American terms, this would mean that if you wanted to turn right, you’d have to give way to the oncoming person turning left. It makes absolutely no sense. It’s also very confusing. I keep hearing that they are going to change the law, but it can’t happen soon enough for me.

4) No insulation

I’ve heard that houses built more than about 10 years ago are uninsulated. The one we are in was built in 1980ish, and definitely is uninsulated. Granted, the temperatures here are very temperate, and it doesn’t get terribly cold in the winter, nor terribly hot in the summer, but we have had a few rather chilly nights, and have noticed that if you let the fire go out, it almost instantly becomes cold in the house. On top of that, there are also no…

5) Double glazed windows

No double glazing on the windows means that condensation here can get pretty bad. In a few rooms you can see streaky marks on the walls where it has run down. I don’t know for sure that it causes any damage, but I can’t imagine all that moisture can be good for the walls or paint. Or carpet, for that matter.

——-

I know all of these are very minor annoyances in the grand scheme of things, but they just go to show that nowhere is perfect for everyone!

Posted by: Vallere | May 29, 2011

Part 3 of 3 – Te Papa Museum

A little late on this one (and the next FFF, again!). Photobucket and/or WordPress have been messed up for a few days and giving me fits when I try to upload pictures. So I’m giving it a go today and crossing my fingers that this works, because this one is a VERY pic heavy post!

Sunday morning of our trip to Wellington, we visited Te Papa. Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand – akin to the Smithsonian in the States. Admission is free (some special programs cost a nominal fee) and the parking fee wasn’t bad at all (we were there almost 4 hours and paid $15 – Te Papa was totally worth that much for 4 people to get to enjoy it!). The full name of the museum is Te Papa Tongarewa and it means “a collection of precious things” loosely translated. The website for the museum is here if you’d like to check it out!

When you first walk in, you encounter a room with a satellite image map of New Zealand on lit floor tiles. The boys LOVED this! We walked around and stood on Wanganui, Wellington, Ruapehu and Taranaki. I showed them Auckland, where we flew in to, and Christchurch, where the earthquake was. Such a neat thing! We had to drag them away.

Ian standing on Wanganui.

The next part of the museum was the natural history area, and there was a gigantic area full of extant and extinct animals of Aotearoa. The centerpiece was a reserved giant squid – the largest one ever caught. On the website there is a cute little game for kids (adults, too!) where you can build your own giant squid, name it, and “release it” into the ocean – and find it again later!.

We were just amazed by all of the animals on display. There was a 3D movie about the squid, a whole room full of cetacean bones, dozens of stuffed birds… There were also displays about the earthquakes (complete with an earthquake simulator house) and volcanic eruptions around New Zealand.

Blue whale skeleton:

The giant squid:

Bird display:

Wetas - I still haven’t seen a live one! Note that on the scale in the back, there is a weta on the left, and THREE mice on the right – they are BIG insects!

Ian next to the now extinct Moa:

All throughout the museum (and there are six floors to it) are Discovery Zones, which are little playrooms for kids that are themed around the different parts of the museum. The rest of the natural history floor had lots of animal displays, books about animals, magnifying glasses to look at insects cast in plastic, microscopes, animal puppets, and…

…a life-sized blue whale heart!

On another floor, which talked about the inhabited history of New Zealand, there was a very large area about Maori history, the Treaty of Waitangi, and a Discovery Zone that had weaving looms, books in Te Reo (“the Language” – the Maori language), kid sized Maori ceremonial clothing for playing dress up, puppets, and puzzles. Here are some pictures from that area. They had a replica of a Marae (sacred meeting house) but that had a sign asking you not to take pictures, so sadly I have none of it. It was exquisite. It was built of dark colored logs, and every inch of exposed wood was carved and inlaid with shell. Stunning!

These are some Maori weapons made from pounamu (greenstone), wood and bone:

A replica of the type of boat the Maori would have been on when they arrived in Aotearoa:

This is about a third of the wall display of Tiki carvings. These symbolize power and fertility and are a very common symbol in Maori art:

The eyes of this Tiki were inlaid with abalone shell:

This is a type of counting stick that would be used retell family history. Each notch would symbolize a generation, and you could moe your fingers along the notches to make sure no one was left out:

This was a performance area in the museum. A group of singers from the national school of art were going to be performing that day.

The rest of that floor had displays about NZ involvement in WWI and II, and displays about the toys from past decades. The one about the 80′s and 90′s brought back good memories for both The Doc and I! Thundercats, My Little Pony,  GI Joe, The Wuzzles, The Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake…*daydreams* OH! And the Discovery Zone in that section was all about toys. Centerpiece was a large mechanical baby face made by WETA, the special effects studio. It. Was. Freaky. There were about 6 knobs that made the baby open and close its eyes, open and close its mouth, wiggle its ears and look left or right.

*shudder*

As we headed out of Wellington and back home to Wanganui, we pulled over to snap a few shots of the ocean. The highway along the coast around Wellington wasn’t there about 10 or 15 years ago. In fact, the land it’s built on wasn’t either. It was pushed up out of the ocean just over a decade ago – and someone decided it would be a good idea to build a road on this newly “reclaimed” land. You can see just how rough and new this land is. Not smooth at all the way you’d expect ocean-side rocks to be. It just reinforces how tectonically active this area of the world is!

 

 

 

Posted by: Vallere | May 27, 2011

Wellington Zoo (part 2 of 3)

We got up bright (actually, it was overcast and rainy) and early (well, if you consider 9am early) on Saturday, May 14, and packed our things (we could do a clinic on procrastination). The kids ate breakfast while I made a cup of tea for myself, and The Doc did some last minute packing and poking around with the GPS.

We hit the road, and about 3 hours later we arrived in Wellington. The road into the city goes around the side of the harbor – it was quiet a sight! I wish I could have gotten a good picture of it, but the way the guard rails are on the road made it impossible. After a few wrong turns and a bit of backtracking, we found  a nice parking spot 2 blocks from the zoo. I plopped the baby in the mei tai on my back and the boys hopped into the jogging stroller, and we were off!

It was great that the rain cleared up just before we arrived, so while things were damp, we didn’t have to worry about getting soaked during our tour.

The very first animal we saw as we entered the zoo was a Fairy Penguin (or, Little Blue penguin), which is one of the native NZ penguins and also the smallest species. He was so cute!

And in a tree just beside his enclosure, a VERY loud, rather cheeky tui was squawking at everyone who passed by. We literally got within 5 feet of him! He wouldn’t sit still, though, so this is the best picture The Doc could get.

A bit later, we found ourselves in the nocturnal animal house. I can now say that I have officially seen a kiwi, a tuatara, and ruru (morepork)! I’m quite pleased! *crosses things off her bucket list*

Poor guy only had one leg!

Back outside, Ian spotted a pelican. I’ve seen pelicans at the beaches in NC before, but not from so close. This guy was HUGE! He was taller than Ian and came right up to the rail, stuck his beak over, and tried to bite him! Ian was torn between being freaked out and totally stoked. I wish this picture had one of the kids in it for size reference. But you can note that The Doc, at 6’1″ tall, isn’t looking down on this bird by much at all.

We were right on time to catch two zookeeper talks. The first was about the sun bears. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sun bear before, but they look like a mix between a regular bear, and a shar pei.

Next we got to see a woman hand feeding a Sumatran tiger. The boys were fascinated! She was explaining how hand-feeding was really important at a zoo, because it allowed the zoo keepers to get close to the cats each day to make sure their eyes, paws, teeth, etc were healthy. She said that being so close allowed her to even smell the cat’s breath to see if there was a gum infection or anything similar.

While she was giving the tiger talk, we could hear roaring in the background. Up the hill a ways was the lion exhibit. Ian and Zollie were very concerned about how loud the lions were, and weren’t sure they wanted to see them. But when we finally got to them, this is what we found:Lazy, lazy…

Around the next corner was a great view of Wellington. This zoo is actually IN town. It’s small, but we were really impressed with how nice all the enclosures were with such limited space.

We saw scores of other animals, and I just can’t include all the pictures. But here were a few of our favorites.

The Doc took this one just for you, Mom.

Feeding time…we could have reached out and touched them!

Fresh shofar!

 

 Thus ends part 2. Tomorrow, check back in for part 3 about Te Papa!

Posted by: Vallere | May 25, 2011

(belated) Friday’s Flipside Five – Accommodations

Aww…I feel really bad now. I’m late with the FFF and I looked and saw that TONS of people actually DID check in on Friday to see it! And it wasn’t there! I’ve let you down again, my loyal readers. But I do have a good reason! This FFF is part one of a three-part post covering all the stuff we did last weekend!

On May 14, we left for an overnight trip to Wellington. That Saturday afternoon we went to the Wellington Zoo, and the next day we went to Te Papa, which is the National Museum of New Zealand – kinda like the Smithsonian.

For this FFF I’m going to discuss accommodations based off the motel we stayed in Saturday night. Then parts 2 and 3 of the post will cover the zoo and Te Papa.

Enjoy! And again, I’m sorry for the delay!

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1) Motels vs Hotels

In the States, if we were going to stay somewhere overnight, we’d usually look for a hotel. Motels have a reputation for being a bit…sleezy…and hotels are really the gold standard. Hotels do have a wide range of niceness, but overall you’d expect a nice clean bed, bathroom, tv, maybe a workout room or pool. The nicer ones might have suites with a pull out couch and kitchenette.

Well, in NZ, it’s a bit backwards. Hotels here are just a bedroom and bath. Hotels here generally have a bar and restaurant in them. You would not find a kitchenette in one, from what I understand. Motels, however, are niiiice. Even the inexpensive ones have a kitchenette, or maybe even a full kitchen. They can have multiple bedrooms, too. They are like small apartments! A good number of the motels also have pools and/or playgrounds for children.

To the right was a twin bed, and up those stairs were 2 bedrooms - one with a queen and one with 3 twins.

 

2) Tea – they take it seriously!

I’ve mentioned before that Kiwis take tea very seriously. Well, it’s no different if you are staying in a motel. This is what we’ve found in every motel we’ve stayed in so far since being here:

Electric kettle, variety of coffees and teas, and yes, a French press.

They also give you a little pint of milk on check-in. Yes, real milk for your tea and coffee!

3) Humerous sweeteners

So far, every motel we’ve stayed in has had this same brand of sugar packets. And they have these awesome quotes on them. I know this isn’t really a difference – you can find things like this in the States, too – but I just really loved them so I’m including them. And you can’t stop me!

Top right says “The large print giveth, but the fine print taketh away”

4) Strangely specific

This is another thing we’ve seen in the bathroom of every motel we’ve stayed in:

I…I got nuthin’. Any Kiwis want to explain this one? It looks like shavers have a totally differently shaped plug than other things. And that perhaps they also run on a totally different current. Why??

5) Planning ahead vs Winging it

I’m not sure if we just have dumb luck on our side, of if this is a rule, but so far we’ve been able to get reduced rates on rooms almost every time we’ve stayed in a motel. In the States, I think that planning ahead (ie, booking a room via Priceline or Expedia) would save you the most money. But it seems that here, if you walk in at the last minute and ask if they have a vacancy, then wince a bit when they tell you the price, they’ll knock it down 15% or so just to fill the room. We’ve had this happen more than once. Our issue at this point is that no one will rent us just a single room because of the kids. So we pretty much have to rent a suite when we stay somewhere. But suites are expensive, and as such, I imagine they are harder to fill. We’ve been able to get suites for the price of a normal room. Yay!

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This concludes part 1 of our 3 part weekend adventure. Up next? Wellington Zoo! Come back tomorrow for kiwi, tuatara, and morepork!

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