New Zealand

January to March 2017 — Christmas to New Year’s in Hawaii with Max and his parents, then 3 months in New Zealand, and a quick stop in the Cook Islands before heading back home.

Queenstown, Day 1

We woke up at around 7. It was cool and misty outside, but it was going to be another warm sunny day ahead. Sue thought we should head into the communal kitchen before everyone else woke up, but that didn’t happen. So after a shower down we went to inspect the zoo that was breakfast — 3 waffle irons with hungry athletes blocking everyone else from getting near the slop-pail of pancake mix, a couple of big toasters surrounded by young girls in oversize t-shirts and pajama pants, the big tub of muesli already three-quarters empty, one young employee doing her best to mix up more powdered milk but barely able to keep up with demand, instant coffee and tea to mix with the hot water boiler mounted on the wall, and nary a place to sit — all the picnic tables and ratty old couches already occupied. Sue made us each a slice of toast with marmalade and we went outside and joined to older german guys on the porch of the building next door. They were devouring their plate of toast, and after they’d eaten that they took out the other half a loaf of sliced bread they’d pilfered from the kitchen and began making sandwiches for themselves for ‘on the road’. Maybe they are cycling — I did see a couple of bicycles with big packs behind our room where the tents were set up.

I filled up with gas before leaving town. Our little Toyota still had about a quarter tank left, but gas stations are few and far between here on the west coast, and I’d rather be safe than stranded. Gas is a little more expensive here than up north — $73 for 3/4 tank! $2.23/litre. But it was worth it. We had a GREAT ride down to Queenstown today.

We started the day in the mountains — and half an hour after Franz Josef we drove through the Fox Glacier village. Then we began the switchbacks down the mountains. We stopped for lunch at a large roadside cafe in Makarora. And then the highlight of the day, the drive first up and then down alongside Lake Hawea, through Albert Town and then Arrow Junction, and finally to our AirBnB in Shotover, just outside of Queenstown. The 340km drive took us four-and-a-half hours, not counting the stops. A lot of winding roads!

We checked in at our B&B. Sarah, our host, was just finishing up with some gardening. The home is in a brand new development. Sarah and her husband Morgan have a 6-month-old baby girl and a big dog. We checked into our room and then sat outside at the patio table and had a cool libation. Morgan came home from work. The whole household is going out tonight, leaving at 5pm, and possibly not returning until tomorrow morning.

Sue and I decided to take a drive into town. We parked our car and took a walk around. Wow! What a great town! Sue remembered Queenstown as one of her least favourite New Zealand towns when she visited here some 30 or so years ago. Not so today! The small town (about the same population as Steinbach) cradles crystal clear Lake Wakatipu. There are lots of restaurants, bars, and shops all around the waterfront. And the beautiful large Queenstown Gardens on one end of the bay. 

At around 7pm we were getting hungry. But instead of taking advantage of all the great restaurants and live music and great looking people that were all around us in downtown Queenstown — well hey, it’s Friday night, and that means it’s Pizza Night.

We stopped by a pizza joint and ordered take away. We drove back to our B&B and were a bit surprised to learn that our hosts had decided to take their dog with them for the night. Whew! Good for us. We plopped ourselves down in front of the TV and watched nothing good while eating our pizza. We opened up all the doors so the evening breeze could flow through the house and cool it down a bit. 

By ten o’clock we were ready for bed. We’ve got an easy day planned for tomorrow — a 4-hour bus ride to Milford Sound, a 2-hour boat ride, and then a return bus trip. We’ll be gone from 9 to 9. And it’s supposed to rain in Milford Sound! When I mentioned that to our host Morgan he said, “Good. At least you’ll have less sand flies!” Sounds like Manitoba! 

Milford Sound

We woke up at 7. Actually, I woke up at 7 — Sue said she didn’t sleep last night! Good thing she doesn’t have to drive today. We’re taking the bus for a 4.5 hour bus ride out to Milford Sound and after a 1.5 hour ride on a boat, we’re coming back home on that same bus. That’s a lot of sitting on the bus, but at least it’s not as stressful as helping Rudy drive the car.

Our hosts didn’t come home until after we’d left this morning. Breakfast was toast and fruit and coffee. We were at the bus station about 5kms from here by 8:50, and the ‘Jucy’ bus was there to pick us up just before 9. We were lucky to be the last pickup of the morning — some of the passengers had already been sitting on the bus for nearly an hour. In fact, the bus was full and it looked for a minute like Sue and I wouldn’t be sitting together — but the driver ordered a single guy to move next to a single girl and that opened up 2 prime seats in the second row for us. 

The driver didn’t stop his (monotone) running commentary in a very thick Kiwi accent until about and hour and a half into the trip. Finally he put on some ’70s music instead. The weather was cloudy and we had a few drizzly and even rainy spells on our drive to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a fairly deep fiord on the south west coast of New Zealand. From Queenstown it is only about 70km by air but about 300km by bus. And it is a winding, but very scenic drive. We made numerous stops enroute for short walks and to take photos. We stopped the the town of Te Anau for lunch. It was almost 3pm when we got to Milford Sound and boarded our boat. Sue and I bought our tickets online and had opted for the ‘included pita lunch’ option. Oops — that was a mistake. We could buy them on the boat for the same price and after we shared one pita wrap we were stuffed and had to pack the second one into our bag to take home with us.

The boat cruise was better than we’d expected. The forecast had called for an 80% chance of rain, but the clouds actually lifted as we cruised the 15km trip from the dock out to the Tasman Sea that separates New Zealand from Australia. We saw quite a few very tall waterfalls, and even stuck the nose of the boat into one so that the young people who were standing on the bow could get soaked. 

Next to us on the bus sat an older couple from Great Britain. We had a nice time chatting with them on the trip there and back. They travelled a lot, and said that for the last dozen years or so they spent more time in their home in Florida each year than they did in the U.K. 

It was 9pm when the bus dropped us off where we’d parked our car on the road beside a bus shelter. We drove back to our AirBnB. The hosts were snuggled up on the couch in the living room, watching some crappy reality show on TV. Their big dog welcomed me home by sniffing my crotch and licking my hands and putting his big face right into mine as I sat down on the couch. Yeah, I know — I’m supposed to be really ga-ga about how great our hosts’ dog is, and gush about how cute he is, and play with him, and love him to pieces — but somehow that just seems wrong. I’m paying THEM to be nice and friendly to ME, not the other way around.

Sue zapped our leftover pita in the microwave and we shared it over a glass of wine. We sat on the couch for a few minutes and showed some interest in the crappy TV show and then excused ourselves and went to bed. We’d had a great day today, but we’ll be quite okay leaving here tomorrow shortly after ‘breakfast’ and heading across the island to the east coast for a couple of nights in ‘our own’ apartment in Christchurch.

Christchurch, Day 1

We woke up, showered, had breakfast, and left our AirBnb in Queenstown shortly after nine. It was a warm but cloudy day, but the weather forecast for Christchurch was sunny. Google Maps said we were in for almost six hours of driving today. 

After about two and a half hours were were between Twizel and Tekapo, driving along the shore of Lake Pukaki. The Lake was a bright blue-green. And across the lake, in the distance, standing tall alongside other snow-covered mountains, we could see Mt Cook (3,724 metres), the highest mountain in New Zealand. I think we were lucky to see it — not long after these photos were taken the clouds shrouded the mountain from our view.

The drive took us across the South Island of New Zealand. The last 150 of our 500km drive was along the #1 highway near the east coast. Here the landscape was comparatively flat, not unlike the prairies at home. Sure, there were still lots of fields of sheep, but we also saw herds of cattle and big fields of wheat and other agricultural crops. And while most of the day had seen only light traffic, the road up to Christchurch felt a bit like the ride from Falcon Lake to Winnipeg on a summer Sunday afternoon, when everyone is heading home after the weekend at the lake. And that forecast for sun? It rained for the last hour of our drive.

At around 3pm we pulled into Christchurch. We were about a mile from our destination when we spotted a ‘Countdown’ grocery store. We pulled in and picked up stuff for breakfast and lunch fixings. Then we found our next B&B, this one a furnished studio apartment where we’ll plant ourselves for the next two nights.

We moved in and checked things out. Very good. Then we sat down and had a late lunch — leftover pizza and sushi. It was still raining and a bit cool, but our apartment had air conditioning and a heater and soon it was very comfortable in there. I hooked up my AppleTV to the big TV on the wall and Sue and I watched another movie from our Oscar list, “Loving” (Best Actress). We still had one more ‘big’ movie to see, “Fences”, so we ended our evening by watching that (Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay). That more-or-less catches us up for the Academy Awards, which take place tomorrow afternoon (which is Sunday night at home). I don’t think we’ll get to watch the Oscars — at least not on our TV here. But we’ll do our own voting here, and see how we make out tomorrow.

Christchurch, Day 2

The sun was shining again when we woke up this morning. We had breakfast and then Sue did a load of laundry. We set up the drying rack in our ‘living room’ and turned on the in-room air conditioner to help along. Then we got into the car and drove into Christchurch’s “downtown”.

Re:START — a “temporary” shopping mall made of shipping containers.

We parked in a car park and started walking. We’d heard so much about how the city’s efforts to rebuild after the February 2011 earthquake devastated much of big parts of the Central Business District were mired in red tape and stalling by government and the insurance companies. We wanted to see some of that for ourselves. So we were not altogether surprised by the number of broken buildings. And there were construction barriers around many properties. And cranes and caterpillars and hammering and grinding and construction workers. And still SO MUCH to do — how can they even keep their spirits up and keep on going? We walked around the ‘Re:Start Mall’, an area where big shipping containers were brought in right after the quake in order to give shops a place to display their merchandise and try to keep their business going. We went to a museum that featured displays and videos of interviews with people who were there when the quake hit.

After eating lunch in the downtown, we drove down to the Botanical Garden, a huge park not far from the downtown. We parked our car and took a long walk around the paths in the park — alongside the river that ran through the park. Ducks and flowers and trees and green grass areas and lots of people enjoying the sunny afternoon. We ended up at another museum, the Canterbury Museum. This one featured displays about the early Maori people, the cultural and natural heritage of New Zealand, as well as some curiosities and oddities from around the Canterbury region. Really a good little museum. 

We were back at our apartment by around 4. By that time the Oscars were nearly over so we marked the winners on our ‘ballots’. For supper we walked down our street for about a block to a little Fish ‘n Chips place and ordered ‘take away’. After supper we sat down and watched 3 episodes of the 10-part Netflix series, “O.J.: Made in America”, which won the Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards today. At eleven we tuned into Sunday’s ‘The National’ on CBC. And that was the end of a pretty fun day here in Christchurch. We’ll spend the last day of February driving for 5 hours back up to Nelson, near the north end of the South Island, where we plan to hang out until next weekend.

Back in Nelson

We slept in today — woke up at 8:30. Sue got breakfast ready and then we packed our suitcases. We were on the road by a little after ten.

The ride up to Nelson was just over 400kms — and took us just over 6 hours. The weather was great. The traffic was okay too. There was quite a lot of road construction — the one two-lane road (the other one is damaged by the earthquake) down to Christchurch had repair crews conducting single-lane traffic in about 20 different places along the way.

We ate our lunch (sandwiches) in the car along the way. When we got to the Greens Motel in Nelson it was around 4 o’clock. We checked in — we’ve got 4 nights here before we plan to take the ferry back to the North Island. Our room is a large room with a separate bedroom and a small kitchen. We unpacked. We skyped with Dave and Marylou for a while — they are leaving Phoenix tomorrow, where they’ve been since the beginning of January, heading for home.

After our visit with the Driedgers we drove into town to the grocery store to stock our fridge. Sue made supper. After supper we watched another episode of the O.J. series on Netflix. By 11 it we were in bed.

Nelson Golf Club, Round 2

This morning after breakfast I went to the motel office to get a book to read — they have a small ‘library’ of books other visitors have left behind, but both Phil and Jill (really! those are the names of the couple who own and manage this motel!) declared that all the books were for women and I wouldn’t want to read any of those ‘sappy’ books. But I found ONE book that Jill said was a pretty good “guy’s” book.

I walked over to the golf club pro shop, which is just down the driveway from our motel, and bought a special card that gives us 4 rounds for $125. And I booked 2 of those rounds for one o’clock this afternoon. Then back to the room to start reading my motel novel.

Meanwhile Sue was checking out hotel options for us after we leave here on Saturday. She booked something in Palmerston North for a couple of nights. And then she took her little notebook and her calculator (iPad) outside and sat under the shade of the patio where the communal barbecue is and did some accounting. It’s her way of doing “month end”. We’ve been gone January and February; now it’s up to Sue to make sure we have enough money to make it through to the end of March.

Sue on the 18th tee.

After lunch it was time to head over to the golf course. We took the clubs out of our car trunk (or “boot”, as they say here) and walked to the first tee. Another great day for golf: warm, partly cloudy, an ocean breeze to keep things comfortable. The course was quite busy this morning when I was here but not so bad now. We had a great time walking the 18 holes this afternoon. Sue was a bit frustrated with her game, but what else is new? It’s golf!

We finished at around 5pm. We went upstairs to check out the clubhouse restaurant — looks very good — we’ll maybe get our supper here on Friday after we’ve golfed our next rounds here.

Happy hour back at the motel. I was thinking we should drive into town and go to the Vietnamese restaurant for supper. But in the end I phoned a Thai restaurant and ordered ‘take away’ instead. I drove into downtown (about a 15 minute drive OVER the big hill each way) and picked it up and we had supper at our own kitchen table in our motel.

I’d spent part of the morning trying to figure out a way to get my AppleTV to connect to the wifi of the hotel. Now it was time to put it to the test. So we watched a couple more episodes of the Netflix “O.J. Simpson” series. Of course we followed that up with the CBC National News, and a few YouTube videos from the evening talk shows after that. Went to bed just before midnight.

How we spent our ‘day off’ in Nelson

Today was a ‘day off’. Well, it was SUPPOSED to be a day off. We lazed around all morning. Sue really wanted to finish reading her book club book (even though her friend Noreen has already emailed her twice, telling her how the book ends!) and I needed to do my best to finish the ‘borrowed’ motel book. So we goofed around all morning, watching YouTube videos of all the late night talk shows making fun of Donald Trump, and reading the Steinbach, and Winnipeg, and Canada news, and watching the couple in the room next to us frying up bacon and eggs on the ‘community’ barbecue in the back yard, etc. And NO reading.

And before you know it it was 11:30, high time for lunch. So we had lunch. And THEN we sat down to do some serious reading. Oh, but first Sue had to email some friends, and then phone her sisters, and then see if she could alter our flights home with WestJet (nope, she couldn’t — that old ‘travel agent’ thing doesn’t work quite like it used to). And I had a bit of a Skype with my parents. And then we FaceTimed with Max and his parents. And THEN I did some reading. And all the while, we had decided to use our two remaining golf passes tomorrow. And I told Sue that maybe we should rather golf today; you never know, it might rain tomorrow. And she said no, today was our reading day. And then she said I should call the golf course to make sure we could get a tee time tomorrow. And I said SHE should call the golf course. And she said, ‘No, YOU call the golf course.’ But I didn’t. And then at around 3 o’clock (I guess she was tired of reading), Sue calls the golf course. What? Tournament tomorrow and NO tee times available. How about today. Yes, you can come right away. Shoot! Well, you know it’s all MY fault (of course) — Sue says, ‘I told you to call the golf course!’

No big deal. Although the sky is looking a bit dark over the top of the big hill to the south, the temperature is PERFECT, the breeze is light, and I was getting tired of reading anyway. We take our clubs out of the trunk (boot) and head down to the course. The guys standing at the first tee suggest we go ahead of them. Great! And we’re off. Great tee shots. We chase down the fairway after our balls, hoping the guys on the tee can see just how far along we are. Second shot. Dribble, dribble dribble. Topped the ball. It rolls into the long grass. Oh boy! And then on the second tee I smacked my new favourite fluorescent yellow Titleist  golf ball sideways into the river. But I persevere. What’s past is past. So you won’t have a great score for the round; why not just count pars and birdies like Ed Hildebrand (Lorette) always does? Besides, it’s a beautiful afternoon, the guys ahead are not holding us back, and the guys behind are far enough behind us that there’s no rush. Let’s ENJOY the round!

Okay, so I was not playing very well. But you should have seen (and heard) my playing partner. Jeepers, you’d think she was on the pro tour! After EVERY SINGLE SHOT she whined and complained at length about how terrible the course was. She would hit a near-perfect shot and then watch as the ball took a hard bounce to the right. Or she’d putt and consistently the ball would end up at least five feet to the right of the hole. And then she’d get mad (I’ve already cautioned her about throwing her clubs), and it was all I could do to try to keep her spirits up, and encourage her, and say ‘Great shot!’, and just generally ‘cheerlead’ my way around the course. And then, after nine holes (and she’s still steamed about ‘having to go golfing today’), she’s only BEATING me by SEVEN STROKES! 

The back nine went more-or-less like the front nine, except that all that complaining seemed to catch up with Sue, and I finally stopped complimenting and encouraging her after EVERY SINGLE SHOT. And I played a bit better (and didn’t lose any more balls), and Sue had some unlucky shots. And when it was all said and done (and I mean SAID and done), we walked off the course at 7:30 TIED (at 105 — nothing to brag about for either of us).

So that means that we get ANOTHER ‘day off’ tomorrow, to read our books and laze around. And as challenging as it was to try to keep Sue feeling positive on the golf course, once we got home she was completely happy again. And when she’s got some corn-on-the-cob to cook up in a too-small pot, and some rice and chicken with (leftover from yesterday’s Thai take away) coconut cream sauce to heat up for supper — well,  all is right with the world and she is in her element. And that’s great for me, too.

So now it’s 8:30. The dishes are done, the doors and windows are open to allow the cooling breeze to blow through our motel room, the sky is dark, and it’s time to cue up the final two episodes of the “O.J” series on Netflix. And I’m quickly writing my journal, trying to stay ahead of the game. And now I’m done — gotta go watch TV. See you tomorrow.

Friday in Nelson

No golf today. It was supposed to be a reading day. Sue finished reading her book club book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I didn’t read at all. Instead I wasted the whole day trying to figure out how to program a rotating header background image based on the post category. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make any sense — it didn’t to me either. And I didn’t manage to figure it out. Waste.

By late afternoon, after we’d FaceTimed with our kids again for a bit, Sue thought it was time to go for a walk. So we did — a little over an hour’s worth, around the perimeter of the airport, next to our golf course. Not as warm out today, and quite windy. 

Then we drove into Richmond, about 10kms away, and found a Pak’n Save grocery store where we restocked our happy hour supplies. Then across the road to the pizza place to order take away. 

After we’d eaten supper back in our place, it was time to do a bit of reading before it got too dark. Summer ‘officially’ ended here in New Zealand at the end of February. And we can sure notice that now the days are getting shorter. People here say autumn is a fine time of year — and we do look forward to seeing some fall colours in the vineyards and forests as we make our way north.

Eight o’clock and it’s time for Netflix again. Tomorrow we’re heading back to Picton (2 hours away) from where we’ll take the ferry back across Cook’s Strait to the North Island. Here’s hoping for calm seas for the crossing.

Palmerston North, Day 1

We checked out of our hotel in Nelson by ten o’clock this morning. We met Phil, the owner-manager, walking by as we were carrying our suitcases out to the car. I was going to return the book I’d borrowed from the front desk — I wasn’t quite half-finished it — but he said to just keep it. Great. That will give me something to do on the over 3-hour ferry ride this afternoon.

We drove to Picton via the picturesque winding road across the northern part of the South Island. It was Saturday morning and there was a huge cycling event going on — we passed hundreds of cyclists along the way. There is an awareness and a respect for cyclists here in New Zealand — so even when the roads are quite narrow two-lane highways, with lots of trucks and camper vans winding their way up and down around the hills, everyone gives cyclists room, even when it’s a peloton of a dozen or more in a group. Once we got closer to Picton we were once again in wine country — beautiful rolling hills with rows upon rows of grapes stretching as far as we could see in all directions. 

Once in Picton, the road led us straight down to the harbour and the ferries. We parked beside the road for an hour — we were too early to load yet — and went to a small bakery to buy some lunch. Pastry and meat pies. Sunny and warm on the picnic table outside. Surrounded by backpacker hotels and backpackers waiting for the next ferry.

Rudy reading on the ferryAt 1 o’clock we lined up to drive onto our ferry. It’s all very efficient. We parked and took our books and extra sandwiches up to the 8th level and found a table next to one of the big windows. And sat and read while we sailed across Cook Strait up to Wellington.

The journey was smooth and seemed shorter than the trip the other way a couple of weeks ago. We drove off the ferry at around 6pm. In no time we were on the #1 highway that leads from here all the way to the northern tip of the island. The drive to Palmerston North took us just under 2 hours. It was cloudy and looked like it might rain, but it didn’t. The first half of the trip followed the western shoreline and the views were spectacular, with the sun setting in the sea and lighting up the hills on our right. There was a brand new 4-lane highway for the first hour — so new that our google maps thought we were in the middle of nowhere and kept spinning around and suggesting places for us to turn left or right in order to find a road for us!

We found the hotel we’d booked for 2 nights and checked in. We were surprised and disappointed to learn that this 6- or 8-storey hotel didn’t include free wifi! Why is wifi free everywhere except in “better” (more expensive) hotels? We’ll be looking for an alternate hotel tomorrow.

So instead of gazing into our devices all evening, we had crackers and cheese and sausage and a glass of wine while we scanned through the TV channels. And I read a few more chapters in my book! And now it’s 11:30 and it’s time to close up my laptop and go to sleep.

Palmerston North, Day 2

We checked out of our hotel first thing this morning. Sue let the hotel know about all the things they did wrong before we left. We’d already found another place on AirBnb and booked it for the next two nights. But check-in time there would be at 2pm, so we had a bit of time to kill. So we drove to the town square and parked the car. We walked over to the i-site (information kiosk at the centre of every New Zealand community) and asked about what there was to do in Palmerston North. We picked up brochures for some of the golf courses around here. And another featuring some of the walks (or ‘tramps’, as they’re called here) in the region. There is a museum just around the corner. And lots of restaurants and cafes and shops. Well, since it was very cloudy, a bit cool, and felt like it might rain any minute, we opted for the Manawatu Gorge Walk, a 90-minute tramp on one of the hills not too far from here. After driving out about 20kms, we found the roadside parking lot. There were already quite a few other vehicles parked there. We put on our walking shoes, Sue took her hiking pole, and we put our rain jackets on ‘just in case’. And we started on our ‘tramp’.

The day improved a bit as we hiked. By the time we emerged from under the highway and returned to the car park, the sun was shining brightly. No need for rain jackets. 

We drove back into town. I filled the car with gas and we parked back near the town square. We went into what turned out to be a big modern shopping mall and ended up eating at the food court. And then we headed to our new AirBnb, a ‘private’ loft over a garage in a residential area of town. The owners lived in the house next door and welcomed us with some freshly baked ‘pancake’ kind of things with butter and jam. Much better than last night’s hotel. Good wifi, a basked of fresh fruit on the kitchen table, and lots of room. We spent the afternoon in our place, scouting out a place for when we leave here on Tuesday. Our next stop will be New Plymouth, a city of about 80,000 on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. We finally found something on AirBnb and booked it. So now we’ve got accommodations for the rest of our week.

At around 7pm we headed back into the town centre, looking for lamb shanks for dinner. We ended up at a ‘Lone Star’ restaurant (yes, it’s a cowboy-themed chain of restaurants here in New Zealand) and did indeed have the lamb shanks. Not bad, either.

We stopped at the Countdown grocery store on the way home to buy yogurt and sandwich supplies for tomorrow. We got home at around 9pm. I hooked up my AppleTV to the Sony in our bedroom and we concluded our evening by watching (what else!) the CBC National news.

Palmerston North, Day 3

Whoa! Another lazy day here in New Zealand.

We’re quite comfortable here in our studio apartment above a detached garage in Palmerston North. We have big rooms, a pretty nice kitchen, a new Sony TV on the wall, and fast internet. If the forecast wasn’t for a string of rainy days, we’d be happy to stay here a week. Palmerston North is actually a very nice town. It’s a university town. That means there is a large young educated population, and all that goes with that. Lots of cool restaurants, bicycle paths and walking paths everywhere, cinemas and art galleries, big expensive homes along the riverbanks. We decided that we shouldn’t let our first impression (that first bad night in a hotel) taint our view of the place.

So this morning after breakfast Sue and I sat and gazed into our devices. Sue, presumably, was looking for a studio apartment that would be suitable for us to stay in for a week. I was watching online videos of all the Sunday morning talk shows, checking out the latest Trump idiotic tweets, etc. (I can’t help myself! It’s like watching one of those ‘slow-motion’ car pile-ups on an icy 401 highway near Toronto.) Finally, it was time for lunch (the highlight of every day!).

After noodle soup and sandwiches (it was grey and cloudy outside and I was feeling a little chilled inside), we got ourselves ready to venture outdoors and see if we could get in a golf game. Sue actually wanted to do the river walk, but my research showed that the Palmerston Golf Course had a 2:30 twilight special on for $20, so we’ll leave the walk for tomorrow morning. So off we went to the golf course, about a 10-minute drive.

We parked the car and went into the clubhouse to check things out. No problem. The pro at the desk has a brother in Toronto, so right off the bat we were buddies! Sue found a golf shirt on sale — and bought it. I got the clubs all set up on a ‘trundler’ for Sue. And off we were.

No, the score was nothing I’d care to put in my journal for posterity. But the day turned out to be a great day! The sun came out, the temperature was about 21, the couple ahead of us let us play through after they witnessed our great approach shots on hole number 1😜, and so we had no one ahead and no one behind for the rest of the afternoon. And the course, which was a LONG par 72 for me (74 for Sue), was green and a bit hilly, and interesting, and fun. And the greens were fast and true. We finished just before 6pm.

We drove back to our apartment. Our host met us as we walked up the driveway and offered to pick some nice fresh juicy grapefruits from one of his trees in the front yard for us. Nice! A few minutes later we had a bag with half a dozen fresh-off-the-tree grapefruits sitting next to our entry door. Really, it’s too bad we can’t stay here a week!

We went upstairs to our apartment and had a little happy hour and read a bit. Then Sue got the hot-plate out and started on supper. Man, she can dress up wieners and beans so it looks and tastes as good as a steak dinner! Corn on the cob. Lots of onions and sliced wieners in the ‘organic’ beans she bought at the Countdown last night. Piled high over a couple of fresh buns from the bakery. Mmmm. And of course, the whole deal is fancied up considerably with a bottle of 2016 Wolf Blass Cabernet Merlot — $10 NZ at the supermarket! Pretty high-class camping we’re practicing here!

The sun was peeking through the clouds, giving it one last effort before sinking into the western sky. It was 7:30 and we had the WHOLE evening ahead of us. Time to finish a sudoku and see what’s on Netflix. SteinbachOnline says there’s another winter storm heading towards southeastern Manitoba. Well… Maybe a cloudy day in New Zealand isn’t so bad after all.

p.s. I may have said this previously, but just in case, I don’t want to forget it. Here are a couple of observations based on our two months here:

  1. New Zealand is green and clean. There is almost NO litter anywhere. Not having snow that sticks around for a while, and requires salt and sand on the road, probably helps. But we’ve seen orange-vested road workers cleaning up the roadsides many times as we’ve driven along the highways. And the towns and cities too — no ugly papers and plastic bags and garbage littering up the country. Quite impressive, considering so much of the area is along the coast, and it’s often quite windy, and that makes it harder to keep it clean.
  2. Traffic circles are the most efficient way to deal with intersections. I finally get it. The make so much sense! No sitting and waiting for a red light when there’s no traffic crossing. No stop signs! Just slow down into the roundabout, yield to traffic (on the right, in this case), and then zip on through! It’s fantastic. I often drive through several towns in a row without having to stop. And it’s got to be cheaper than putting up traffic lights.


New Plymouth, Day 1

Woke up early this morning. It wasn’t raining. That meant we could have a leisurely breakfast and then go for our walk along the lagoon, and then get in the car and drive the 3 hours to New Plymouth, a little farther north on the west coast. And that’s what we did.

We said goodbye to our host lady. She told us that vandals had smashed car windows of the vehicles parked on their quiet street — very unusual. Her husband’s van had the rear window broken right out. Our car was parked just in front of the van but had no damage. That was a relief.

We drove a few blocks to the university and parked on the road in front of it. From there we followed the walking path along the ‘ox-bow’ lagoon. Lots of ducks were on both sides of the path, sleeping in a bit this morning. Across the water were GORGEOUS homes along the shoreline. Most also had beautiful landscaping and park-like gardens. We quit trying to avoid the duck turds on the sidewalk and just walked and looked at the properties.

Eventually the path led us to the Manawatu Golf Club, the oldest golf course in New Zealand. The course hosted a PGA Championship tournament this past weekend (the 2017 Lawnmaster Horizon Golf NZ PGA Championship) and all the signage and stages were still set up. We went into the clubhouse cafe and ordered a couple of cappuccinos. We took our coffees out on the patio and watched as several groups finished up on the 18th green. The course was in tiptop shape and looked incredible.

After our walk we got back in the car and headed out of town. It was eleven o’clock. 

We stopped for lunch in the town of Whanganui. I’d been hankering for a KFC dinner for at least 2 months — today was my lucky day. Of course, Sue wasn’t NEARLY as excited as I was about the lunch. So while I enthused about how delicious my big juicy crispy chicken keel was, Sue was making faces and pulling that nice shaked and baked coating off of her little drumstick and gnawing at the dark meat underneath with tiny little bites. And of course the french fries were MUCH too salty and she wouldn’t eat any of those. I was sure happy that old Colonel Sanders was licking his fingers up in that big KFC in the sky and didn’t have to see or hear the ingratitude and complaining that I was subjected to. 

We continued on our drive. We took the ‘coastal’ route, although we rarely saw the sea. Most of the country here was farmland — dairy and beef. The waters along the coast here are excellent for surfing. On our right was Mount Taranaki, whose 2518m peak poked through the low grey clouds every once in a while.

We arrived at our AirBnB place at 3pm. Our host showed up 10 minutes later. We parked in the secure parking lot and walked up to the 3rd floor apartment. Very nice. Our ‘sunroom’ in front of our bedrooms looked out over the ocean to the western sky. We got settled and then FaceTimed with Alex for a bit. 

At 5:30 we grabbed our rain jackets and walked across the road to the Coastal Walkway, a ten kilometre path along the sea edge that stretches the length of the city. It was drizzling very lightly, not enough to warrant wearing the rain jackets. We walked about 2 kms to the port and found a seafood restaurant that our host had recommended. Tonight’s special: pan-fried scallops. We added grilled prawns and a greek salad. A fine meal. The rain was a little more significant on the walk back — let’s hope we don’t have rain all day tomorrow (as is forecasted). Back in the apartment I had hooked up the AppleTV and we started a new series, Designated Survivor.

New Plymouth, Day 2

Not a lot to say today. We woke up and sure enough, the day was less than what we’ve come to expect here. Cloudy, a little cool, and VERY windy. Too windy to go golfing. 

After breakfast we put on our rain jackets (to block the wind) and went for a walk. We’d been planning on heading up to Hamilton tomorrow, and possibly stay there a week if we could find a suitable apartment. But our search hadn’t been very successful. So today, after we’d had a nice coffee in a cool little cafe a couple of blocks from our place, we decided to check out the motel across the street from the cafe. The sign said ‘No Vacancy’ but we went to the office to ask just in case. And after a little back-and-forth, we (well actually, Sue) negotiated a deal with them for a week’s stay starting tomorrow. 

We continued our walk around town and were very pleased to find that the city centre has tons of cool restaurants and cafes and shopping places. That, and the fact that there are at least 5 golf courses within half an hour from here, PLUS the great coastal walkway we discovered yesterday, means we’ll have lots to see and do here for the next little while — so in spite of the weather, we felt good about our morning.

Sue bought bread and eggs at the grocery store and made lunch when we got back to our apartment. We ‘wasted’ the afternoon holed up in our place. Sue read, I watched TV. We Skyped with my parents. We watched another episode of ‘Fargo’ on Netflix. Sue made supper and we ate it in our ‘sunroom’ overlooking the ocean. 

It appeared that the wind had calmed down a bit and we decided to go for a quick walk out along the Coastal Walkway. Tonight we headed north, past the Wind Wand, a 48-metre kinetic sculpture designed by artist Len Lye. (We plan to visit the Len Lye museum here in town tomorrow.) We only walked for about an hour — one of these days we’ll walk to the end of the 12km walkway, which goes right up to a couple of golf courses along the coast.

We were back home in our apartment by 8pm. Time for a bit of internetting and then some more Netflix.

New Plymouth, Day 3

Scrambled eggs for breakfast. We sat in the sunroom of our AirBnB apartment and enjoyed the sunshine and watched a couple of carpenters putting up rafters on a ‘garage’ across the street. By 10 o’clock we were packed up and out of there. We drove around the block to the motel we’d booked for the coming week and checked in. Then we drove about 5kms to one of the many golf courses around New Plymouth. Today we went to the Fitzroy Golf Course. Can we golf here? No problem! Twenty bucks for 18 holes. We took the clubs out of the trunk and headed to the first tee.

The game was great. The sun shone, the wind didn’t blow, and our shots were straight and far. Mostly. The course was next to the sea and quite hilly — and that made it interesting but challenging. Sue didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did but she looked pretty good in her new golf shirt.

After the golf game we stopped by a grocery store to stock up on some supplies before heading back to our motel. We took our suitcases and stuff up to our room. Sue made sandwiches and we had lunch. It was after 2 o’clock. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and organizing our stuff. Once again I had to ‘trick’ our AppleTV to login to the hotel wifi network, just like I’d done in Nelson.

After a little happy hour we headed into town. We found a Thai restaurant and ordered take-out. We walked around the block and then took our food back to the motel. Had supper. Watched some CBC News and some of the late night shows on TV. In bed by eleven.

New Plymouth, Day 4

We doddled all morning in our motel room. No hurry. We’re going to sit tight here for a week. No reason to rush. But wait! I thought we were going to go to the Len Lye museum (across the road from our motel) to see a ‘show’ at 11. Oh, oh, we’d better hurry.

Actually, the ‘show’ (called “Flip and Two Twisters”) is an exhibition that plays daily at 12 noon. We were an hour early, just in time to sit in the beautiful theatre inside the museum and watch a 45-minute film about the life and art of Len Lye. The film was very helpful. We’d never heard of this New Zealand artist before. We’d seen his “Wind Wand” here on the Coastal Walk in New Plymouth. Now we were introduced to more of his art.

At noon we all lined up in front of the large space where the feature exhibition was on display. Two 20 foot bands of stainless steel hang from the ceiling. Between them is another length of steel in the shape of a loop. Motors ‘twirl’ the ribbons of steel so they jump around and make loud clanging sounds. It’s too bad I didn’t keep some of my old broken Lufkin measuring tapes — the bending and twisting steel reminded me of that.

The museum itself is an incredible building; the exterior is all wavy mirrors. Like our first B&B host said to us, it’s a beautiful building, probably more interesting on the exterior than any of the exhibitions inside.

After a morning of art lessons, I was starving. We stopped by a busy sushi shop and got a carton of sushi to take back to our motel. After lunch Sue tried to catch up on the sleep she didn’t get last night. I listened to music on my phone and had a short snooze as well.

Later in the afternoon we went out for a walk. We walked all the way along the fantastic Coastal Walkway, past the Fitzroy Golf Course where we golfed yesterday, and turned around when we reached the Te Rewa Rewa bridge.

The walkway continues but we’d walked for just over an hour one way and decided that was enough for this afternoon. Good thing too — on our walk back it started to rain lightly. It actually stopped raining when we got back to New Plymouth but only momentarily. We got home and Sue looked through the menus in our motel room. She sent me out (across the street) to pick it up. By the time the pizza was ready and I came back to the room, it was raining quite a bit harder. And then, while we ate it, it POURED. Apparently the forecast is for rain everyday for the next 5 or 6 days. Too bad; we saw an outdoor concert advertised about 2km from us here, out in a park on the coast. It looked like a fun time, but not if it’s raining!

We watched a couple more episodes of Fargo on Netflix tonight, and then the CBC National before going to bed at around 10:30.

New Plymouth, Day 5

Saturday. Woke up to the sound of pouring rain. And that was our soundtrack for most of the day. So we were stuck in our motel room for the day. We were okay with that — the forecast has been for rain for the past number of days, and today it proved correct. (It may well be the same for tomorrow and the beginning of next week.)

After lunch we drove into town to get some groceries. Later in the afternoon we cued up a few more episodes of “Fargo” on Netflix and that entertained us through the evening. At 9:30 we watched the news while the sound of pouring rain outside our open (and screen-free, as is the way here in New Zealand) windows. No golf today. No long walk today. No photos today. 

New Plymouth, Day 6

Sunday. No pancakes and sausages for breakfast. Man, when we get home next month we are gonna have to re-establish a sensible routine to our weekly menu! Enough with this yoghurt and fruit and sort-of-okay-but-not-really-all-that-good coffee in the motel room.

And if I could get brownie points for good intentions, I’d have made some real headway if I’d followed through on my plan to go to CHURCH this morning. From our balcony we can see the cool roofline and steeple of the St Joseph’s Church a block away. It looked so good I thought maybe we would go check it out this morning — maybe they’d have a good choir singing with a New Zealand ‘excent’ (that’s how Kiwi’s would say ‘accent’). But this morning (just like most of yesterday and all of last night) the rain was POURING. And besides, I looked at the website for the church and it didn’t look very welcoming at all — maybe the Catholics don’t have much of a thing going here in this Anglican (but mostly secular) country. (Oops, I just checked with Wikipedia, and I see that although over half the population is not religious, the Catholics outnumber the Anglicans by a percentage point!)

Well, all that and STILL I will have disappointed my mother — I woke up and heard the pouring rain and was quite happy to turn over and get another bit of shut-eye. And THEN came the aforementioned breakfast.

We sat around and read and wasted time until we had a FaceTime call from Max and Alex. Man, that little guy is growing up so fast — almost time to register for kindergarten! And it may be hard to believe, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that is ALWAYS happy like Max is. Even when he’s sick, or tired, or even sad — he’s STILL happy. He just wants so badly to be happy! I sure hope some of those genetics in there are from me!

After another ‘in-house’ lunch by Sue, I amended her suggestion that we go for a walk by adding a “while carrying our golf clubs and chasing a white ball around” clause. And because Sue loves me, she acquiesced, and off we went to the Fitzroy Golf Club for another 18 holes. Why not? The rain had abated. In fact the sun came out and I had to schtritz some sunscreen onto my nose before we hit our first tee shot. There was a bit of water standing on the eighteenth green, but by the time we’d finished the first seventeen holes, the hot sun (yes, HOT! we were both wearing black golf shirts and for the first nine holes the sun was BAKING us!) had dried up that green nicely! It was a great afternoon. The rain stayed away, even though the clouds rolled in from the sea and it FELT like it might rain any minute for the last hour. Only a handful of golfers out on the course. In fact, no one working the clubhouse — we paid by ‘the honour system’, leaving our cash in an envelope that we popped into the slot in the clubhouse door. We both played well, and while how well we play doesn’t usually determine how much fun we have, today I played very well — probably my best round in nearly a year! And because Sue loves me, and even though she’s quite competitive, she too was happy for me, suggesting that maybe (finally!) all the money I spent on golf last year was starting to pay off! (Always about the money — that’s my Sue!)

We stopped to checkout the Sunday afternoon concert in the park on the way home — but, sure enough, it was cancelled. Too much rain and I guess they had to make the call so even though it was NOT raining at 3 o’clock, it got cancelled.

We went home and had happy hour and showered and cleaned up. Time to go out for a nice meal.

Tonight we went to Arborio, a nice restaurant near the waterfront. Spicy fried calamari with chipotle aioli and lemon as a starter and prawns, peas, and spicy chorizo risotto as a main. Yum.  

Back at the motel we were just settling in for a night of Netflix but our internet had ‘expired’. Oh shoot! I called the front desk (big sign on the door, it’s a long weekend here and looks like everything will be in ‘holiday mode’ until Tuesday). I didn’t expect an answer, but a minute later I got a call back and all was good again. So here we go: the final three episodes of ‘Fargo’, Season One, on Netflix. Looks to be a great way to end a great Sunday. Goodnight, everyone.

New Plymouth, Day 7

Monday is a holiday here in New Plymouth (Taranaki Anniversary Day). And it’s cool and cloudy. Misty, even. That means another ‘lazy’ day for the Nikkels. Sitting around, looking at the internet and doing crossword puzzles. Waiting for the next meal or snack. 

Are you still having fun? That’s the question we’ve heard twice now in the last couple of days when we Skype with someone from home. Are we still having fun? Well, SURE we’re having fun. We’re healthy and happy and eating and sleeping and living and breathing. What’s not to like? And although right now we’re sitting in a one-room motel room, it’s not like we’re “on holidays”. Holidays means a break from the usual, and getaway from ones ‘boring’ everyday life. We’re not “on holidays” — we’re just living our life in a different part of the world for a few months. What’s not ‘fun’ about that? We know we’re lucky to be able to do this. We know we WON’T be able to do this forever. We think we’re learning something new about our world and the people in it. We know neither of us would be doing this ALONE, but we enjoy doing this TOGETHER. We know there will be ‘rainy days’ when I’ll have nothing interesting to write about in this journal. 

Speaking of which, it was cool and cloudy today. We didn’t do much. We had another nice visit with Alex via FaceTime this morning. We went for a short walk this afternoon — which was cut even shorter when it started to drizzle lightly and we weren’t wearing our rain jackets. So we went to Monica’s across the street from our place and each had a lovely cappuccino. We followed that up with a long FaceTime call with Ed and Val, who are in Gold Canyon for a month. So now we know lots more about lots of things. 

We FINALLY finished the big Free Press Christmas crossword puzzle that Sue had schlept along from home. And we watched the Sunday morning news talk shows and John Oliver on YouTube. Sue Scrabbled on her iPad while I diddled on the AppleTV until I somehow blew away my Netflix account. Now what are we gonna do every night? Oh well, if the New Zealand channels don’t put us to sleep, we still have the CBC National News.


New Plymouth, Pi Day (Day 8)

Okay, in honour of my friend Werner Einstein Pries, I must mention that it is “Pi Day” today — i.e. 3.14, the 14th of March, or π if you’re into mathematics. My guess is that right about now Werner is tuning up his Pre-Calculus class and getting them ready for another big mid-term — and he probably baked a “pie” for those students who come in for extra help.

No pie for the Nikkels here in New Plymouth today, although we DID each get a packet of cookies from the maid who cleaned our room today. (Maybe she was a math geek, too!) Once again, it was a cool and cloudy day here on the west coast of New Zealand. After breakfast we went to the golf course. No, we did NOT go golfing! We WALKED along the coastal walk pathway all the way out to the golf course. And back. And in spite of the temperature, we couldn’t help but stop and watch a group of surfers enjoying the big waves on the Tasman Sea.

Once we got back into town, in spite of the fact that it was already after 12 noon and high time for lunch, we stopped at the i-Site (tourist info) centre. The nice lady behind the counter talked us out of going to the big mountain, Mount Taranaki, which we haven’t seen now for 7 days on account of the cloudy skies. No, she said, there will be gale force winds up there and it’s not nice at all, and the view will be no view, and you should rather go to one of the lovely public gardens in this area, that’s what you should do on a misty cloudy, cool day like today. And while you’re here, why not check out the very fine museum in the adjacent building — it’s free!

Big shark hanging from the rafters at the museum.

So we did. Even sat through a ‘film’ presentation in a very cool little theatre in the museum and learned about some bird that New Zealanders are all ga-ga about saving from extinction. New Zealand museums are about bugs and fossils and earthquakes and war — I guess they love their geography and don’t want to forget about how the went to the other side of the world to help the ‘mother country’ fight for freedom in the world wars. And by now I was getting VERY hungry.

Sue made lunch and we read a bit. Then we walked a few blocks to the movie theatre to see the 3:15 showing of “Silence”, the Martin Scorsese movie about Jesuits in Japan which only had one academy award nomination (for cinematography). The movie was good and long. And long and good. When we exited the theatre many of the stores along the main street were closed. We stopped by a noodle shop and picked up some Chinese take-out to take to our motel room. 

By 8 o’clock the door was locked, the curtains drawn, and Sue was in her night shirt, ready for bed. The wind was howling outside. Hopefully we FINALLY get a nicer day tomorrow. We’ve been here in New Plymouth for a week now, and while we’ve enjoyed getting to know the area, we sure haven’t had the good weather we’ve become accustomed to here in New Zealand this winter.

New Plymouth, Day 9

It’s Wednesday, March 15 — the middle of the week in the middle of the month. The Ides of March.

This morning, Sue read while I checked up on the latest Trump news. The wind had been howling again last night, and it was STILL blowing like crazy. But at least the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. The forecast said cool and very windy. That’s what it was.

For lunch I went to a sushi place not far from our motel and picked up two trays of assorted pretty morsels. I was bugging Sue that we should go golfing, maybe it wouldn’t be that windy down by the ocean, and we could wear long pants and jackets if it was a bit cool. Sue wasn’t keen on that. But we WERE starting to go a little stir-crazy just sitting around. 

We got into the car and stopped in at one of the big grocery stores. Then we drove just a couple of blocks out of town to the Pukekura Park. This ‘botanical’ park was one of three that the lady at the i-Site had suggested we visit. We parked in the parking lot and selected one of the paths to go for an afternoon stroll. And we weren’t the only ones who’d had that idea. Lots of older people and moms with their prams and joggers were enjoying the shelter from the wind there in the park.

Paved pathways wound around the big trees and lovely king ferns and gardens of rhododendrons and ponds with quacking ducks and Japanese-style pagodas and pretty bridges. In the middle was a ‘tea house’ where most of them eventually wound up to enjoy a coffee or an ice cream cone. We sat in the sun for a while until my pestering finally wore Sue down and we went back to the car and headed for the golf course.

Wikipedia map shows New Plymouth and Mt Taranaki.

There was one old guy standing at the clubhouse door and a foursome chipping onto the 18th green when we teed off. Not bad, here in the valley, in the shelter of the clubhouse. Sun was shining. I took off my sweater. Off to a terrible start, both of us, but they got better. Well, the GAME got better, but the wind did not. It was HOWLING whenever we got to a tee box that was up on one of the hills on the course — and it is a hilly course. The bonus was that the sky was clear and bright blue — and we finally (first time since we got into town more than a week ago) got a great view of the big mountain that dominates the Taranaki area.

We finished golfing at 6:30 and headed back to our place. We had our leftover Nasi Goreng for supper and watched a bit of TV. I was wiped, what with all the wind and the exercise we had today. I barely made it through the CBC National and was asleep before ten. Didn’t have the energy to write my journal — so I wrote it the next morning.

A Sunny Day in Taranaki

After over a week of cloudy and rainy weather in New Plymouth, we woke up to beautiful bright blue skies and golden sunshine on our last morning there. We had breakfast and packed our bags. Paid our bill and said goodbye. Got into the car and headed out of town. The trip to our next destination, the city of Hamilton, was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive without stops.

But we DID take a small 2-hour detour right off the bat: left the main road and drove the 15km winding road up to the car park at the Egmont National Park, the entrance for people interested in hiking up Mount Taranaki. Great views on such a clear day. We could see some of the paths going up the mountain, around the mountain, and off to various lookout points. From up there we could see the ocean on three directions. We could see the sprawling valley stretching out to the east. Way off in the distance, we could even see the Tongariro mountains — where we had hiked together with the Funks about 2 months ago.

I took a short ‘tramp’ through some very dense bush, following a muddy pathway, out to one of the lookout points. With all the rain we’ve had in the past week, the hiking paths were very muddy, not at all ideal on this day. But I managed to get some more photos of the valley below before heading back to the car park.

Sue and I were just taking a walk out to another lookout when a helicopter came right over our heads and landed down below us somewhere on the road we’d come up on. I really wanted to know what was going on. So we got into the car and headed back down the hill. As I was winding our way down I could hear the chopper blades nearby. Finally I stopped the car and ran across the road into a clearing — and there it was. No emergency, no rescue deal; just some workers getting shuttled in to where the park trucks were parked. Sue was laughing at me, suggesting that maybe like my nephew Matt, I should become a ‘storm-chaser’. More like an ‘ambulance-chaser’.

So much for today’s “excitement”. We continued our drive up to Hamilton. By now it was high time for lunch so we stopped in Waitara at a little cafe. We followed the coast for half the day, then turned inland, winding our way through some very beautiful country. Lots of agriculture, cattle and sheep, as we followed the Awakino River.

One more stop, this one for some ENORMOUS ‘single-scoop’ hokey-pokey flavoured ice cream cones near Waikato. We had emailed our hosts in Hamilton to expect us at around four. We arrived at our very lovely studio AirBnB in a brand new suburban residential development at around 4:30. Our host, a heart-and-stroke doctor, met us on the driveway and showed us the suite. Very nice. He pointed out the Canadian and New Zealand flags flying from the flag pole. And then, on the window beside our entrance, a poster greeting us with another Canadian flag, and under that, a big photo of the Steinbach windmill. Wow, this host goes all out to make us feel welcome!

Instead of going out for dinner, Sue was so excited about the great well-stocked kitchen, we had supper in our place. We read our books (a small ‘library’ of books in the bedroom here, so I picked one of those) and watched our laundry drying on the drying racks as the sun set.

How we spent St Patrick’s Day in Hamilton, NZ

After breakfast this morning, Sue and I searched online for a place to stay for tomorrow night. We had planned to go drive around the Coromandel Peninsula on the west side of the North Island — quite a few people have recommended it to us. But we couldn’t find any suitable accommodation and the more I looked at what there was to do on the peninsula, the less enthusiastic I was about going there. A lot of driving on narrow winding roads along the coast, and for what? We’re not interested in surfing or hanging out at the beach. 

Change of plans. We have a week left in New Zealand — why don’t we head up to Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand. That can be our ‘base’ from which to head up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point. And on the map it looks like there’s lots to do there. So we booked a place on AirBnB. All set for the weekend.

Today is St Patrick’s Day. I looked through both suitcases for something green to wear — NOTHING! Well, that’s not cool. Oh well, my pink shirt will have to suffice. Although I really wanted to go golfing today, we decided we’d drive our car down to the Hamilton Gardens, and spend a good chunk of the day there. Dr David, our host, highly recommended it. We were more or less ready to go but when I stepped out onto the patio I saw that Dr David had parked two bikes complete with helmets, vests, locks, and tire pump, for us to use. Okay, we’ll CYCLE there. We got our cycling shorts on, adjusted the seat heights and the helmet straps, checked google maps on my phone for a bike path, and off we were.

I gotta say one thing about New Zealand — it is a CIVILIZED little country. The people are very friendly, the countryside is super clean, the roads narrow but well maintained, everything is nearly twice as expensive as it is in Canada (except golf), the people prefer organic everything over chemically-improved food, and fitness is ‘in’. And cyclists are respected on the road. And they have marvellous walking, and hiking, and cycling paths. WAY ahead of North America. 

And so it was, that we cycled twenty kilometres along the river, on beautiful paved and shaded cycling paths, from our house in the northern suburbs of Hamilton down past the central business district, to the world-famous Hamilton Gardens.

We had lunch in the gardens and then spent another hour visiting the various garden displays within the park.

And then we cycled twenty kilometres back to our apartment. Just enough time for a little happy hour before we got into the car and drove a few minutes north of our place to a nearby golf course. Why not? It’s Friday afternoon, the sun is shining, and we haven’t swung our clubs for a couple of days. 

Well, the golf course wasn’t quite as good as we’ve become accustomed to. It turned out to be a nine-hole course with ‘double’ tees and pins, and the fairways ran parallel to the river, and with each other. And so it wasn’t completely surprising, although quite unsettling, when, on the third tee box, we had to stand and wait and watch the two guys ahead of us drop their clubs and run back to the clubhouse to fetch a golf cart so they could help a poor old man who’d been teeing off on the 4th hole when he was struck by the tee shot from one of the aforementioned guys on the third tee. YIKES! Not a pretty site, and one of my worst nightmares. So that sort of took some of the fun out of the round for us. That, and the fact that we both had had better games lately. So, after nine holes, we packed up our clubs and went in search of supper.

Although we’d considered finding an Irish pub and making that our evening meal and entertainment, it WAS Friday night, and well, that really is pizza night. So we picked up a pizza and ended up back at our apartment, having a great supper, watching the sun go down, listening to the cicadas and crickets. Not very ‘Irish’ but a nice conclusion to a ‘busy’ day for us here in Hamilton. 

Oh, and the B&B we’d booked this morning? Cancelled — hosts are going away for the weekend. So we’re back to square one — not sure exactly where we’ll end up tomorrow night. But we’ll ‘worry’ about that in the morning.

We’re in Whangarei for the next 2 nights

That’s about 4 hours north of Hamilton, where we were last night. We’re on our last week in New Zealand.

After we’d eaten our scrambled eggs for breakfast, we packed all our stuff again and loaded it into the car. Then we said goodbye to our hosts, David and Cherie, and off we were.

The trip up to Whangarei followed New Zealand’s main highway, Hwy #1, through Auckland and on up to the Northlands of the North Island. We were booked into an AirBnB in Onerahi, a small suburb of Whangarei, on the west coast of the island.

We planned to stop for fuel and lunch in Auckland, not quite halfway through our trip. Well, that turned out to be a mistake. The exit lanes from the #1 Highway were queued up for miles. I think there was a HUGE Maori festival and celebration happening right where we had turned off the freeway. So now we were crawling, 3 cars at a time, through intersections with far-too-short turning lane lights. So we wasted at least an hour getting off the main highway, and then another half hour waiting for a cheeseburger at a McDonald’s! And then I couldn’t find a gas station, so we ended up getting back on that busy freeway, and heading north through Auckland and finally pulling over for fuel once we were well past the city.

We got to our B&B at around 3:30. Our hosts, “Kayvn” (that’s “Kevin” with a heavy Kiwi accent) and Marion were happy to see us. Marion had baked fresh blueberry muffins and a date loaf for us. And the fridge in the apartment was stocked with all kinds of goodies.

We poured ourselves a ‘happy hour’ drink and sat at the patio table outside. Our hosts soon joined us and we visited for about an hour. Lots of laughs and good stories. Marion suggested a walk we might take around the peninsula, so that’s what Sue and I did. We got back to our apartment about an hour later. And instead of heading into the town centre, we decided we’d have ‘supper’ right here at our patio table. Sue warmed up the leftover pizza for me and she had some fresh bread with cheese and grapes and a glass of wine. We watched the sunset as we finished our meal.

By 9 o’clock Sue had packed it in — she’d had another sleepless night last night. I looked at a couple of tourist brochures, scouting out possible hikes for tomorrow. Then I wrote my journal and watched a little TV before going to sleep.

Whangarei, Day 2

Soon after breakfast we FaceTimed with Alex and Max. It will be great to see them in a couple of weeks from today. Then we spent an hour looking at the next few stops and trying to book motels along the way.

It was probably 11 o’clock by the time we got into the car and drove the 10 minutes into downtown Whangarei. We parked the car and started walking. Lots of cafes and shops, and lots of cars parked along the street, but it seemed very quiet this Sunday morning. We ended up in a small pocket park. We were looking for a place to go for lunch, and although there were lots of cafes in the area, we thought there must be something more interesting on the waterfront. So we checked with google and followed the directions for 900 metres to the harbour. And yes, there were LOTS of people sitting at outdoor cafe tables on a very attractive and very busy waterfront. It gave us a whole new impression of the city!

We chose a restaurant and got a table under a sun umbrella. We had a great lunch with drinks and watched people for an hour or two.

Then we went back to our car and headed north of the city for about 15 minutes, up to the Whangarei Falls Reserve. We parked in the parking lot and headed along a path that was part of a ‘loop’ around the falls. We took a few photos of the falls from one of the bridges that crossed the Hatea River. 

Then we followed a path alongside the river down to the AH Reed Memorial Park. The Park features a stunning canopy walkway, which enabled us to see some of the magnificent 500-year-old kauri trees up close. We had planned to take an alternate route back up to the falls, but the pathway was closed due to some new construction. So we walked back to the car park along the river walk.

We stopped at a Countdown grocery store and picked up sandwich fixings before heading back to our B&B. We’d not been home for long when our hosts, Marion and Kevin, invited us to join them for a ‘cuppa’ on the patio. Marion had done some more baking and ‘tea’ turned into something a little more substantial. We visited for a couple of hours; Kevin and Marion plan to retire from their cleaning business this July and were very interested in our travels, etc. 

Well, that sort of ‘spoiled’ our supper. So after we were back in our place Sue made some sandwiches and we had a ‘small’ supper. We turned on our little TV and watched a bit of New Zealand news and waited for sleep to come.

Bay of Islands

Shortly after breakfast, our host, Marion, came downstairs, knocked on our door, and bid us farewell. She and her husband “Kayvn” were all dressed up and going out with a big group of friends. Marion said we should just relax, take our time, no hurry to check out. So that’s what we did.

We sat with our computers and looked for places near Auckland for Thursday and Friday, our last two nights here in New Zealand. I guess we should really have been surprised, since we’d heard this from the hotel lady when we arrived at the beginning of January, but ALL the hotels and motels are booked! Adelle is here this weekend and everything’s been booked for weeks. So we had to settle for an AirBnB place about an hour south of Auckland. But at least we got SOMETHING. That left only Wednesday night ‘open’, and with a couple of phone calls we found something north of Auckland and booked that. Whew! So now our ‘itinerary’ is more-or-less established for our remaining time here (except for an overnight in Los Angeles on our return flight — so we’re not quite set yet).

We left Whangarei at around 11 o’clock. Our 80km ride up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands took us about an hour and a half. We drove through the waterfront town of Paihia and up another 3kms to our motel. It was too far out of town for us to walk back, but we were happy with what we’d booked. Yesterday’s B&B lady had sent along grapes and tomatoes and bread and homemade date loaf — Sue unpacked our stuff and made sandwiches and we had lunch at the motel. 

After lunch we drove back down to town. First, we went out to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, considered the ‘birthplace’ of New Zealand, where the Maori and the British signed a treaty in 1840. We decided NOT to go into the museum on the site — and instead drove to the Waitangi Golf Club just up the road. The course didn’t look very interesting, but the views from up there of the Bay of Islands was quite impressive. Sue clicked a few photos. 

Then we drove back down to the waterfront. We parked the car and walked along the busy harbour. We bought tickets for a short ferry ride across the bay to the small town of Russell. The sun was shining, the breezes were gentle, lots of sailboats were in full sail on the water. We got off the ferry and walked around the small village of Russell. Lots of cafes, ice cream shops, souvenir kiosks, etc. After about an hour of walking we sat down and had an ice cream and a cappuccino. Then back on the next ferry and back to the mainland. 

We walked around Paihia and looked at some of the restaurant menus, thinking we’d probably come back later tonight for dinner. But all that got short-circuited when we passed a sushi shop that was about to close and was offering assorted trays for half price. 

Back at our motel, Sue put together a bit of a happy hour tray and we took it out to one of the tables at the pool and sat and enjoyed the quiet for a while. 

Back in our room, we read a bit and watched some TV — hey, our Sky Channels include CNN! We haven’t had that since our first week in Auckland! So, an hour or so of that and we’d had our ‘fix’ for a while again!


The end is in sight

Today we drove up to the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. The end of the road here in New Zealand. I’m not sure what the point is — we didn’t go to the SOUTH end of the country so what’s the big deal about going to the north end?

We left Paihai at around 10 and although we had planned to stop along the way and eat our lunch, we ended up driving until around 1 o’clock, all the way to Cape Reinga. The road was good, winding and narrow, but not a lot of traffic. But there really isn’t very much up along this narrow strip of land. Lots of tourists opt to take a bus excursion which takes them to the Cape but also drives along the “90 Mile Beach” for part of the trip.

Along the way, Sue and I talked about our time here in New Zealand. What we liked, what we didn’t like. What we’d do differently next time. It’s not at all a surprise to us — we predicted that it would be like this — but by far our best time here in New Zealand has been the 5 weeks we stayed in Napier. After that, the South Island was sort of anticlimactic. And the area that we’re visiting now, north of Auckland, feels even less interesting than the South Island. Maybe it’s because we’ve been here for 3 months and the novelty of the beauty of the countryside has lost its impact. It’s still a gorgeous country. And for sure it’s that we’re nearing the end of our time here and our thoughts are about the NEXT stage of our life and the transition back into the routine that is our daily life at home. (The photos on SteinbachOnline of dead trees surrounded by piles of dirty snow and flooded streets at home should make us more appreciative of what we have here.) All that, and we still have ANOTHER little adventure coming up before we go home — but both of us are not at all excited about a week in the Cook Islands! I think we need an “attitude adjustment”.

We pulled into the car park at the Cape and walked through the gates along the path that went out to the famous lighthouse at the northern tip. The sun was peeking through the clouds, the temperature was comfortable, and the scenery was excellent. But because it was already one o’clock and because Sue makes great sandwiches, the lighthouse was the SECOND best thing about our stop at the Cape. 

After we’d eaten our lunch we followed the other tourists, many of whom came via one of the many big tour buses that were lined up in the parking lot, down to the lighthouse. 

After the obligatory photos to “prove we too had ‘been there'”, we got back into our car and proceeded to retrace our route right back on the only road (#1) on the peninsula. About 15kms south of the Cape we pulled off the main highway and took a 3km side trip along a gravel road down to the big sand dunes on the west coast. We parked the car and started out to the dunes. There was a camper parked near the washrooms which offered ‘sand-surfing’ boards for rent. Hmmm, not today. But we left our sandals under the camper (we would’ve ended up carrying them up and down anyway) and started walking up the dunes. The temperature and the partly cloudy skies made for a pleasant ‘climb’ up the hill. Sue aborted the trip a quarter of the way up and said she’d wait for me there. I plodded on. Once I reached the first level area I could see the expanse of ‘desert’ reaching all the way to the sea. The wind was now a factor, blowing sand into my eyes, the effects of which were aggravated by the fact I wear contact lenses. There was an even higher dune ahead. I headed for it.

When I reached the top of that dune the wind was blowing quite hard. But the view from up there, through my squinting eyes, was worth the climb. I took a few photos and then started back down. Just like the walk on the dunes in Namibia a year ago, going down was really no problem — just take big steps and let the deep sand ‘swallow’ each footstep.

We picked up our sandals, and tried to dust ourselves off before getting back into the car. I had sand in my eyes, ears, hair, even crunchy granules in my teeth! 

We drove south to the town of Kaitaia, where we’d booked a motel. Our ride was made a little more interesting by the fact that the fuel gauge in the car showed empty for the last half of the trip — and the lack of services along the route made running out of gas a less than pleasant prospect. But, as Sue announced during the ride, “nothing to worry about!” We made it. 

We stopped to replenish our libation supply at the first (and only?) grocery store in Kaitaia and fueled up the car. We checked into the hotel. Happy hour and a shower. And then out for supper.

We went down the street to the Beachcomber Restaurant. Scallops for me, duck liver pate for Sue. Yeah, that’s something we don’t eat a lot of at home. We’d better hurry up and appreciate what it is we’ve got here — it will end soon enough!

Paparoa, Northland — three more sleeps

We woke up at around 8, although I was up from 4 to 6 at night. I think I’d fallen asleep at around 9:30 and was finished sleeping by 4. So I sat in bed and looked at my computer screen until 6.

Sue had made an instant coffee but I got into the car and headed out to “Macca’s” to pick up a “cuppa” and some “bikkies”.  The Kiwis have a silly abbreviated expression for just about everything. The call 4x4s “utes”. Eggs benedict is “bennies”. A sandwich is a “sammy”. “Tea” is actually dinner. And a “cuppa” is a cup of tea. The corner store is called a “dairy”. And many of their expressions are not SHORTER than saying the full word — they’re just dumb! For example, Christmas presents are called “chrissy pressies”.

Anyway, I went to McDonalds to pick up a couple of coffees and some biscuits (egg McMuffins).

We packed our bags and said “cheerio” to Kaitaia, and headed south on the Number 1 highway. The drive down to our next motel was just over 200kms, but we had decided to take the longer and more winding coastal down the west coast and soon turned off the main highway to State Highway 12. This route was supposed to take us 4 hours, but that didn’t include a couple of missed turns and wrong turns along the way.

Our lunch stop was in Opononi. The little village is at the mouth of the Hokianga River. There were a couple of cafes to choose from. The view from there was really quite stunning.

We continued on our way. The drive was VERY winding, up and down and mostly DEEP in the forest. The vegetation, especially with all the king ferns that New Zealand is famous for, looked ‘tropical’. At one point we came around a series of sharp bends in the road and there were several big white buses and lots of cars parked along both sides of the road. What’s this? We gotta stop and check it out.

And so we pulled over to the side of the highway, parked the car, and ran across the road to where all the school kids who had come out of the big white buses were lining up. It was the entrance to the Waipoua Forest, home of the world’s largest and oldest Kauri trees. We got into line. First we had to scrub our shoes on a floor brush, then we had to spray some kind of disinfectant on the soles of our shoes and walk through a mat that was soaked in disinfectant. Wow, those Kiwis sure are keen to protect their forests! We walked a short way into the forest on a big wooden boardwalk. And there it was — a HUGE tree towering over the tops of all surrounding trees. My photos don’t do it justice — so of course I took too many. I guess I was hoping one of them might help show the overwhelming size of that tree. 

This is the largest known kauri tree in the world and estimated to be 2,000 years old. Standing at over 51 metres high, it has a girth of nearly 14 metres. 

We continued on our way, stopping in Dargaville for an ice cream cone before arriving in Paparoa. We parked in front of our motel and checked in. Hmmm… The hotel is an updated and renovated OLD hotel that’s been here for many years. Our room is small. But the kitchen here must be very good — the bar and the restaurant are large, lots of tables, and lots of customers!

On the way to our walk we met this young girl leading her pony along the sidewalk!
After a quick refreshment we asked the woman at the desk about ‘a walk’. Oh yes, there is a ‘bee-utiful’ walk just down the road. We followed her directions and soon found the entrance to the Kauri Bush Walk. The hour-and-a-half walk led us through a farmer’s cow pasture and then took us past a pre-colonial historic Maori Pa that is estimated to be more than 250 years old.

We got back to our motel, showered, and went to the restaurant for “tea” (dinner). The restaurant wasn’t full when we sat down at our table, but it was packed by the time we finished our steak and lamb dinners. Whatever our room lacked, the restaurant made up for it!

When I went to pay I was informed that if we didn’t need the chef to come in and cook breakfast for us tomorrow morning, could we please bolt and lock the door to the building on our departure. Apparently the owner is in hospital in Auckland and they are a bit short-staffed! Small town, small-time motel. Real estate write-ups would call it “charming”.

Pukekohe, Day 1

We woke up in our hotel room #3 at the Paparoa Motel at around 7. The only other guest was a gentleman in room #2, and he left bright and early. So we were alone in the motel. Sue switched the kettle on and made 2 cups of instant coffee. Eew! I guess we’ll get packed up and see if we can find a proper cafe down the road.

We left the motel, locking the front door behind us, at ten. We drove about 10kms down the road and stopped at a small espresso and breakfasts cafe. Nice. Good coffees. Eggs on toast for me and a big chocolate-plum danish for Sue. We’d had an email from the girl who’s villa we’re renting for our week in the Cook Islands advising us to bring insect repellent and meat. What? What does that mean?! The insect repellent request doesn’t exactly thrill us — but hey, we’re from Manitoba — whatever pesty insects they have here can’t be anywhere as bad as the mosquitos of Manitoba. But what’s up with the request for meat? Sue emailed her back and the reply was that since everything is flown into the island, meat is very expensive and if we want to use our big fancy barbecue next week, we may want to bring our own meat. We walked to a nearby little grocery store to see about buying a can of “Off!” before hitting the road again.

There was a bit of a drizzle on the windshield as we continued south towards Auckland. Soon we saw the Sky Tower, the landmark tower near the harbour. We took the main highway right through the middle of the city. Traffic was constant, even though it was the middle of the day. Oh yeah, ADELLE IS IN TOWN! This is the weekend we’d heard about all those weeks ago when we first arrived — no hotel or motel rooms available because ADELLE IS HERE!

We drove through Auckland and continued for about half an hour south of the city. We turned off the main road and followed our GPS a few miles into the country. Lots of greenhouses in this area. Vegetable farms. We found our B&B and parked our car at about 2 o’clock. Our host had left us instructions as to where the key was — she wouldn’t be home until after 4pm but we were supposed to make ourselves welcome.

The long driveway had what appeared to be a recently emptied greenhouse beside the length of it. The residence was at the end of the driveway. Our room was an extension at one end of the family home. Quite nice. By now the sun was shining. After we’d hauled all our gear out of the car and into our place I found a water hose and washed all our golf clubs. I managed to pack both sets into our ‘travel’ bag much better than I’d done for the trip here. Lots of room! Tomorrow Sue will do a load of laundry and pack our 2 suitcases and we’ll be all set for our flight out on Saturday.

We found some books to read on the bookshelf in our room and were sitting outside in the sunshine reading when our hosts came home. We visited a bit and then Sue and I left for the small town of Pukehohe, about 10 minutes from our place. We made a short stop at a Countdown grocery store to buy some snacks and cheese and sausage which we’ll pack in our checked luggage — that will be our ‘happy hour’ snacks next week.

We’d already decided that supper tonight would be at the Lonestar restaurant — it’s a ‘Texas-style’ chain of restaurants here in New Zealand and we’d been at one earlier on our trip. We had one final meal of ‘lamb shanks’. It was 8pm when we finished eating and drove back to our home in the country — and it was dark outside. Wow! Three months ago when we first arrived it stayed bright until 9:30. It’s Fall in New Zealand.

Back in our room we watched TV and I wrote my journal. Tomorrow will be a relaxing day on the farm — laundry, reading, packing, and pizza for our last (Friday) night in New Zealand.

Pukekohe, Day 2: Our last night in NZ

We’re going out with a whimper. No big trek today. No long drive through forests and mountains today. No, we didn’t really do anything (AGAIN!) today.

Sue did a load of laundry and hung it on the drying rack for the day. Just before lunch we went for a walk for an hour. After lunch we FaceTimed with Max and Alex for a bit. I was going to read in the afternoon, but I had a nice nap on the couch instead. Sue found one final B&B for us — we have an overnight in L.A. on our way home a week from today.

Our host lady brought us a couple of slices of the white chocolate cake she’d just made for our ‘happy hour’. It was delicious, but it also meant that we were not really very hungry when suppertime rolled around. So we waited an extra hour before phoning the pizza place in town to order take-out. We drove into town to pick it up and by the time we were back in our apartment my appetite had returned as well.

In all her cleaning and re-packing, Sue found another crossword puzzle from the Christmas edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. I filled it in and watched a movie on TV. Sue went to sleep at around 11. I, on the other hand, was well-rested from my afternoon nap, and stayed up to watch TV until late.

Tomorrow is Saturday. Our plan is to have a lazy morning here and check-out right after our lunch. Then we’ll drive back up to Auckland and return our car rental. We’ll go to the airport to catch our 5:45pm flight to Rarotonga. We’re supposed to arrive there at around 11pm tomorrow night, but really it will be 11pm TONIGHT (we travel back across the date line). And after our first night in Rarotonga we get to RE-LIVE Saturday all over again!

Leaving New Zealand

After one last great night’s sleep in New Zealand we spent today morning packing and cleaning up. Typically, Sue worried quite a bit about not being able to fit everything into our two suitcases. But when all was said and done, everything got packed and my backpack was mostly empty.

Our hosts are Seventh Day Adventists and had gone to church this morning. We had asked if it was okay for us to stay until noon. And so, after an early lunch, we loaded up the car and headed for Auckland.

The half hour trip on the main freeway took double that — rush-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic heading into town. What’s the big deal? Adelle. What else. Must be an afternoon concert.

We “petrolled” up the car and returned it to the Rent-a-Dent dealership in Manakau. The same young kid, John, who had delivered the car to us in Bethlehem three months ago was manning the fort. He looked over the car and pronounced it okay. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking us to the airport. Well, no, too busy and short staffed. I checked to see if Uber was an option. No cars available. I asked John again. Well, they charge $25 for that service. Deal.

Fifteen minutes later we said thanks and goodbye to John at the airport. We checked our two suitcases in at the counter and then headed to the oversize bag check-in. Oh, oh. Problem. We are 3 kilos overweight. Remove something or pay $120 extra fee. No point arguing with this guy either. So we take that honkin’ big bag (with TWO sets of clubs and TWO golf bags and FOUR pairs of shoes) off the conveyor and open it up. So much for how nicely I’d wrapped the whole contraption in assorted colours and lengths of bungee cords. Out came the shoes, one pair at a time, onto the scale. All four pairs added up to three and a half kilograms. Close her back up and drag her to the guy at the baggage counter. Yup, that’s okay now. Shoot, I’m all tuckered out and sweaty and we still have a long day ahead of us.

Now we’re shopping for a big shopping bag to haul our shoes in. Too bad we didn’t think of this a bit earlier — I had a big shopping bag packed into the golf bag. Fancy “New Zealand” bags here in the airport shops are $19.00! Oh well, what choice do we have? It’s only money. But then, 5 minutes after we’ve gone through customs, I realize I’ve forgotten to collect that brand new “shoe” bag from the X-ray screening counter! We start running back to the customs gate. Of course I’d already forgotten what colour our new bag was. But as we approach the gate we spot a customs agent holding our bright green shoe bag and looking for the owners. Whew! Yeah, but there’s a slight problem. He opens the bag and starts looking through the shoes. Aha! There’s an aerosol can in one of the shoes. Confiscated. Shoot! That was Tim’s sunscreen, left behind after our golf game in Hawaii. Too late now.

After all the fuss and bother, the rest of our trip to Rarotonga went off without a hitch. Almost. It turns out that our plane, which was scheduled to fly from Auckland to the Cook Islands and then to L.A. had already flown an extra leg BEFORE our flight and with the extra cleaning, etc, it would be at least half an hour late loading us. So our arrival in Rarotonga will be closer to 11pm than 10. Not too big of a deal. But the REASON for the extra flight? ADELLE! Again! New Zealand Air added a flight for Adelle fans who were flying in from Christchurch.

At around 10:45pm we landed and then stood in the customs line-up for the better part of an hour. But once we reached the desk things went quickly. We were directed to have our luggage checked, so once again, I had to open up our new green ‘shoe bag’ and show the friendly bag-checkers that we had no New Zealand dirt or sheep shit on them. Okay. Re-pack. Taxi. Our man is waiting for us. We load our 3 very heavy bags into his van and join one other tourist for the ride out of the airport.

Our villa is about 3kms from the airport! The taxi turns down a little side road and drives through what appears to be the front lawns of several homes before he pulls up right in front of a large lit-up beautiful house. He turns around and looks at us: “This is your place.” What? Really? It didn’t look like this in the photos. The other passenger looks at us and says she wishes she was in a place like this. Where is her place? Oh, she’s staying quite a way out through town, at a backpacker’s hostel.

Taxi driver lugs our bags from his van onto the deck. “Goodnight.” We still don’t quite believe this is the right place. In the wet (it must have rained all evening) darkness of the midnight, this big 2-bedroom brand new home with its large windows and all the lights turned on looks like Shangri-La.

Of course, we ARE on a little island in the middle of the Pacific. And there is no internet here. And the TV has ONE grainy channel showing a cricket match. And we are SOAKED in sweat without doing anything — and it’s the middle of the night! But this is our place for the next week. Good thing I brought a book along. Don’t think we’ll be moving around much, never mind hiking up mountains or through forests.

We open our suitcases on the spare bedroom bed, put on our shorts and t-shirts, and have a welcome drink on the large patio. Then we call it a night. What a Saturday it was. And to think that tomorrow we get to do Saturday all over again!