Saturday, April 28, 2012

Waitakare and La Cigale

Up Mt. Zion
Karekare Beach
Wednesday was Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) Day, the equivalent of Memorial Day so no work! An au pair from Seattle who I met a few months ago and had dinner with a few weeks ago decided to go hiking in the Waitakare Mountain Ranges. With a little of research online and I grabbed a book from the library we ended up on a four hour loop up Mt Zion and down Karekare beach - the beach the movie The Piano was filmed.

Again the weather was perfect, if anything a bit warm- so much for being Autumn. Its about an hour drive and took us to the west coast of NZ. It was all just beautiful - black sandy beach with grassland and swampy areas, cliffs, "mountains," rain forest, ect.... We sat on the beach for little lunch and then headed home.

After cleaning up and sipping wine on the back porch for a bit, we drove to Parnell (CBD area) for dinner at La Cigale French Bistro. It was highly recommend by Andrew and Andrea, and was the setting for Masterchef NZ a few weeks ago. We were not disappointed. I gorged myself on the best charcuterie platter, duck l'orange, and dark bitter chocolate musse I have ever and may ever have. 
La Cigale

The rest of my week was uneventful and went fast. Mackay is into boundary pushing this week, which means a lot of repeating myself mixed with some patients and disciple, but is going well (for me at least). I helped out babysitting yesterday morning, while Andrea did some work for peapods at "mommy showcase," and then again last night as Andrew is going to Germany for the next 10 days and they needed to get in a date night. I still have absolutely no complaints as to my work/personal time and love being able to help out. The "work" I do caring for the kids and helping around the house is surprisingly rewarding and always appreciated. I am making dinner tonight to kick off the next 10 days of possible chaos or maybe calm - we're not really sure - probably a bit of both. 
The weather is a bit crummy today so I was considering staying my sweat pants all day, but just saw that some how NZ is showing the new Avengers movie earlier than the States, so I am off to the movies. (And then back into my sweats.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Practicing Missing the Bus

A weekend at home to rest and relax went surprisingly fast and was just what I needed. I babysat Wednesday and Friday. To my utter amazement I am still running at 100% no-troubles-babysitting. Mackay for all his two-yearness is incredibly easy to put to bed and once is down is almost never heard from until morning. Mia is... well still working on being as wonderful as her brother, but at least is predictable. She is becoming more interactive and spending more time awake smiling and wanting to be held (for better or worse). 
Mia is the greatest!
Looking down Queens St
Saturday I laid in bed until I couldn't stand it anymore, just because I could, and then went upstairs to make buttermilk pancakes, yum. I did laundry and piddled on the internet for a bit and then bused down to the art gallery. 
View of Auckland Skyline
from Albert St bus stop
For unknown reasons to me, I have the hardest time getting to the bus on time even though I check the times on line, and know they run early, and its only a 4 minute walk... so I decided to practice missing the bus both to and from the art gallery. What I mean by that is that I was sitting at the stop, it was a beautiful day, and I was mad because once again I was waiting for the next bus to come in 25 minutes. Then it hit me (not the bus) that this is what they are talking about when they say its about the journey not the destination... the reason I was mad was because I had a plan to be at the art gallery in 25 minutes and how stupid was it that I was just sitting waiting for my destination to arrive. So I decided to instead pull out my kindle, soaked up the beautiful day and enjoy the journey - practicing missing the bus. 
Cardboard Box City (including security)
Walking to the gallery I passed this super cute city of cardboard boxes that was being put on during the school break in front of the civic center. 
As the library is next door to the gallery I checked out some books on the artists of the exhibit and sipped on a chai before visiting my friends VanGogh, Degas, Warhol, the Richardsons, and Freud. 
Sunday showered and everything but technically didn't get out my sweats until 6pm when I left to go to Sunday Chapel (Chapel being the bar and bistro around the corner) with some girls I met from Tongariro.  Just another week in paradise. 

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    Tongariro Crossing

    Working hard, playing hard is a bit tiring (not that I am complaining in any way what so ever). I have spent most of this week cleaning, doing laudry, cooking, baking, oh yeah and taking care of two children under two years of age and seriously living well!! I am still shocked at how rewarding and enjoyable my domestic activities are. It is probably only blissful because of the balance I get by not really having any on the weekends, if I don't want, and on top of that having the completely awe inspiring opportunities I have here like... going to Tongariro Crossing last weekend.

    I went with a tour bus put on by my au pair managing company and so was accompanied by six other au pairs. They were all extremely lovely young women who maybe didn't don't know what they were getting themselves into when they signed up for this trip - but hey neither did I - the main difference being I am from Colorado where people are super active and hikes/treks are taken seriously. But on with the adventure.
    The "house"
    We left Friday afternoon (Andrea gave me the afternoon off and braved taking care of both children during waking hours by herself). The trip takes about 6 hours and Tongariro National Park is approximately 250 km south of Auckland. We stopped at a grocery to get dinner, the next days meals (though I'd brought along most of that), and then wandered into some podunk town in the middle of no where to stay in a "house."

    Scree climbing
    The "house" was suppose to be a really nice backpacker, but for unknown reasons, even to our guide, we'd been bumped to an over glorified camping shed. It actually wasn't so bad, just cramped living space, one bathroom and not what had been advertised by the agency. We left camp at about 0800 to meander to the Crossing. It is on this little meandering I learned that none of the other girls had really every hiked and due to petro shortages the guide wouldn't be accompanying us. When we started the trek it took about 10 minutes for the group to get out the parking lot with all the picture taking and gaggling, so it was then that I made the best decision of my day- ditch 'em.
    South Crater to Red Crater
    I plugged in my iPod and hunkered down for the 19.8km (12.3) trek. It starts out in a valley called Soda Springs with lots of brush and a little stream. This was a 45-minute warm up for the next 45 minutes of "devil's staircase." Its about a 70 story stair climb to the South Crater. Out of the 150 or pictures I took none of them were done here as I was just trying to keep one foot moving up in front of the other. From the South Crater to the Red Crater its another couple hundred feet climb - but no stairs here in fact some of it was so vertical I had to go almost onto all fours and almost all of it was scree.
    Up until the Red Crater the landscape was mostly volcanic rock (red and black).Then at the end of the Red Crater I was able to look over the edge to the Emerald Lakes.  At this point of the trek is where I really started to not have so much fun since the descent from Red Crater to the lakes is on traversed by walking (kinda) on scoria which is on top of scree - aka loose round volcanic rocks moving on top of all the gravely, dusty, moving, broken scroia parts.

    Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes (r side)
    Emerald Lakes
    Scoria and Scree
    Blue Lake
    Red Crater to Blue Lake
    Vista from top of Blue Lake
    Once I reached the top of Blue Lake I was able to see, well, almost the whole Eastern part of New Zealand. Then I was on the down. Lots of down. In total I went up for 3 hours or 3600 feet and then down for 2.5 hours or 4300 feet. On the way down I went from volcanic moon-scape like rocks to brush, pairire and eventually luscious rain forest. When I got the end, my van wasn't there to pick me up...... I text the driver and when he arrived he said that I was the fastest trekker he had ever had on his tours and he wasn't expecting me for another couple of hours - which is when the rest of my group showed up. I was so in love the hike I just sort of melded into a meditative, hyper-active state. I didn't take any breaks and I stopped three times to grab food out of my pack. The weather (complete and amazing luck) and scenery was so incredible I couldn't help but keep moving.
    When the group was recompiled we went back to "town" for showers, dinner, and bed. I did get a chance to lay outside and watch the night's sky. I have never seen so many stars - it is indescribably!!! Sunday we did a little travel through the park, including a waterfall trip and stop at the out-of-season ski lodge and headed back to Auckland.
    Rain forest

    THE END!

    It looks different the next day
    Kiwi Crossing!!

     P.S. If you can't tell by the pictures - yes I was hiking "Mt. Doom" from Lord of the Rings - unfortunately I didn't think I had time to summit it (ha).

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012


    Mia and Mackay gave me an
    Easter Bunny before I left
    This post has been haunting me all week to the point it is keeping me up tonight. It is not so problematic as daunting - I did my fair share of amazing things and had just a few inspirational epiphanies and I don't know how to go about summarizing them in writing, but here goes.

    On Friday morning, Andrew and Mackay dropped me off at across from the old ferry building down at the CBD. Mackay cried, like full on screaming. I had told him bye-bye and gave him a kiss on the check. I would like to think that he was crying for my sake, but at the same moment Andrew had retrieved my purse and small luggage bag and exited the vehicle as well. Mackay apparently thought we were both leaving him the in car for the weekend! Anyways, they went on home to enjoy their Easter weekends with friends and family and a few days on Waiheke.
    Dining at Shippys

    I jumped onto Naked Bus at 0800- no not what you are thinking- their slogan is "stripping the cost of traveling" and the coverage of clothing is not a consideration as a passenger. It is about 250 kms due North from Auckland to Paihia, and with a few stops and some holiday traffic we arrived in Paihia right as predicted at 1230. I slept and read most the ride up, but did have the chance to catch some beautiful scenery that rivals CO, the West Coast and the Midwest all at once.
    Shippys - Old Sugar Boat
    The weather was predicted to be bloody miserable all weekend - cold and rainy - but the weather gods were looking out for me and most the Northern Island and we ended up with absolutely perfect, sunny and gorgeous weather almost all weekend (with the exception of some showers over night).
    Waitangi Maori Meeting Hall
    Inside Treaty house
    Kauri Tree

    Once in Paihia I walked about 10 minutes outside downtown (which isn't really a "downtown" as a the center of the tourist driven town), to my hostel. Yes - hostel- and it was as cute and lovely as the website and backpackers website I had booked through had boasted. Seabeds was not packed to capacity like most of the  "in town" hostels were, had clean and newly remodeled bathrooms, nice beds, a cute and well organized kitchen and was just perfectly located half a block from the ocean - easily seen from the end of the hostel and balcony.

    I stopped by the local Countdown (grocery store chain) to get some provisions for the weekend as it was just luck and a bit scatology that it was open Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Then I walked down the main thoroughfare to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, stopping for lunch at Shippys Fish and Chips - an old sugar boat and to take some pictures of the Pou (like totem poles) on the side of the road. The Waitangi Treaty was the document signed between the Maori (native NZ people) tribes and the British Empire in 1840. The Treaty grounds now host a Maori Meeting house and a few other bits of history and is easily one of the most historically and culturally important pieces of land in the country. I finished on the day with some time reading at the beach, dinner and bed.

    Expecting the worse weather, I had booked an all day bus tour going from Paihia to Cape Reigna - the most nothern spot in NZ. The bus picked me up at 0720, then went to the Puketi Kauri Forest which is the host of trees that are kind of like redwoods in the sense that they are often hundreds or thousands of year old. Then we were off to a morning tea stop and then on to Cape Reigna and one the most beautiful parts of the world I have ever been lucky enough to see. Cape Reigna is 290m above sea level looking out to the area of water where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean clash - literally. Maori legend states that this is where departing spirits of this land pass on to their homeland.

    The Clash of the Tasman Sea
    and Pacific Ocean

    We were then on to the sand dunes where we lanched ourselves down a 74m sand dune on a plastic body board at speeds of up to 80k. Then,onto 90-Mile Beach, a register high way on the beach spanning about 90 miles - this area is absolutely, amazing beautiful and I didn't take as many pictures as I could have knowing that there was no way to ever capture that type of natural beauty on a digital camera and instead of trying I would keep my eyes away from the camera view finder and on the horizon. Off to home and bed.
    Mangrove Forest
    Haruru Falls

    Sunday I walked up past the Treaty Grounds to the Haruru Fall/Mangrove Forest 10k hike. Haruru Falls wasn't all the wonderful, but the luscious NZ forest walk and Mangrove Forest made it all worth while. Mangroves are these shoal based trees that thrive even with the high tide rising up them about a meter every day, twice a day. I arrived in the forest just barely after high -tide and the trail was basically at water level. It was so serene, peaceful, and (again) beautiful it was almost eerie. The afternoon was spent reading and sitting at the beach before another 3 hour bus ride home.

    Monday was spent at home blissfully doing laundry and tidying, playing with Mackay and Mia, and generally  spending time with the family and enjoying the simple yet joyous parts of life.