Sands Through the Hourglass

The Canuck Waves Continue

We have truly been blessed with a (near-literal) boatload of visitors who have gifted us with their presence.

The last crew to have found their way to the Southern Hemisphere were Steve and Danielle (who-like us, Brandon and Stacey as well as visitors, Jamie and Michelle-were able to celebrate an anniversary in NZ).

Steve and Danielle landed early one Monday morning, fell into the same Macca’s trap we did upon arrival and boarded a bus to meet us at the Mount.

We were so excited to greet them, we arrived a half hour early- giving us a chance to enjoy the sunshine (one of the only clear, warm days Steve and Danielle had on their entire trip- whoopsies…sorry about that, guys).

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We dropped bags off in the car and had a wander around downtown before grabbing a cheap burger at Astrolabe (something that seems to be part of our visitor’s welcome-pack). The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent recouping and refreshing following a whole lot of hours en route.

Rain, Life and more Rain

The day after the fresh Canucks arrived was a day of rain and errands. We had all decided Crumpy would have to see a mechanic for some precautionary work before taking him- brimming with people and packs- around the North Island.

Tuesday morning, I got up early to drop him off and wandered around the mount for a few hours before going back to pick him up. A wave of unfortunate news awaited me, Crumpy needed MORE work and we were left questioning our safety driving much further than the Mount… SO our low-key time commenced: World Cup Hockey and grey, rainy days helped us hunker down and chill.

Wednesday I had made an appointment to go wild and colour my hair. Having a long, loooonnnng line of hairdressers in my family, I have never had anyone other than family so much as wash my hair… like, ever. SO I did my research, had a consultation and set the date! To my surprise my wonderful sisters and mom-in-law treated me to my 30-year-old-gone-wild hairdo 🙂 Thanks again, ladies!

Just over 4 hours and several chapters in my book later… the transformation was complete! My wonderful pal, Becky got pink hair for her 30th and so we were kinda twins for a bit. Our wild and fun hair- might as well, right?!

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Thursday the rain continued and our car went back to the shop for its necessary repairs. We all went into town, and as life is… our plan of venturing out and walking/bussing to a breakfast spot ended  in a very soggy, itchy speed walk to the closest place that served food!

Thankfully that close spot offered great coffees and an open fire- so not as bad as it could have been! We bussed home for more rainy day hockey-viewing as we waited for the freedom of our 4-wheeled friend.

By mid-afternoon we had Crumpy and a plan to head toward Rotorua for some geothermal fun, a nibbles-dinner at the night market and the Polynesian Spa (another visitor-tradition).

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On the Road Again

I admit once more that I am not the biggest Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fan. I should probably give the books a read, too- but fantasy, generally, isn’t my genre. BUT I did my best to plot out a bit of a vacation including LOTR stops for our super-fans 🙂

We ended up having a pretty impressive survey of the North Island in just 5 days.

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Friday we started our trek, and made our first stop in Waitomo (where Stacey discovered there were LOTR recordings made in one of the caves, oooooo). We were also completely dazzled by the glowworms and breath-taking caverns!

Cave of Wonders

Both Joel and I had done Waitomo when we were first in NZ all those years ago… but more of the adventurous side of the caves (Al and I did black water rafting, while Joel did a day-long epic which included abseiling and loads of cool things like that), so neither of us had done the more common tour. We were really impressed! Our guide even sang a beautiful Maori song while in the giant open space in the main cave known as the cathedral.

We weren’t allowed to take photos in the caves, so here we are disembarking:

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Once our spelunking was through we went to check out our Airbnb for the night. It was wonderful. Everything from the history of the place, to the design elements, the magazines and movies in the house were amazing. I told the owner I’m pretty sure we’d be BFFs based of the house alone (style and film taste), ha.

The house we stayed in was built by the owner’s grandparents who once ran the General Store in the village, the store has since changed hands, but the house is still in the family. It had lovely windows, lots of space, fresh farm eggs, and a cozy, wood-burning fireplace to enjoy.

Though difficult, we pulled ourselves from the house long enough to check out some more of the Waitomo area. Hoping to find somethings outside the typical, Stacey and I both came across Marokopa Falls. The falls are about 20 mins beyond the village, and just a 10 min walk in from the main road.

It was really mucky and muddy, so we weren’t able to get our usual close-up view (despite Stacey’s best efforts), but we were pleased with the perspective from the main platform!

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Once we’d seen the Falls, we decided to allow ourselves to be distracted by other roadside turn outs. We were able to go down into a big cave (after yet another 10 min hike in from the main road), which was kinda cool. Then Joel saw a sign for a ‘nature bridge’, which frankly sounded suuuuuuper lame- BUT I’m working on being a good sport, so away we went.

We parked again, off the main road and a short walk led us to the Mangapohue Nature Bridge. Joel really has a keen eye for finding some pretty incredible places (I know I shouldn’t doubt this fact), and the bridge was no different! It’s actually a land bridge that hovers over a stream. Really stunning atmosphere, but also a unique stop along the way.

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The pictures don’t do it justice… but if you find yourself in Waitomo, I’d suggest going to check it out.

The rain started up again, just in time for us to be back in our cozy accommodations, we suited up to walk across the road for a fabulous dinner at Huhu (another recommended spot). We were pleased to find this busy little restaurant with lots of gluten free options and local beer on tap.

The rest of our time in Waitomo was spent by the fire, with good coffee in the morning and a necessary viewing of “What We Do in the Shadows” (way-to-go Taika).

Whakapapa and Mt. Doom

After a little re-charge with a slower morning, we were off again to hike around Tongariro National Park. Mount Ngauruhoe is one of the gorgeous peaks featured both in the park as well as in the Lord of the Rings films (where it’s known as Mount Doom, *dun, dun, duuuuu*).

We chose a small hike to do in the area and ended up tramping to Taranaki Falls while enjoying some fab views of the Mount- even catching a glimpse of the top near the end of our trek (rare and wonderful)!

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It was great to stretch the legs and after some fresh air (and more Gravol) we were back on the road South.

We stayed at another historic home, which is clearly the owner’s passion project- the interior was all chosen to accentual the fabulous 1960s architecture. We played games, ate a lot of Pizza Hut pizza… which probably lead to the toilet problems that first caused Joel and I to hunt for a plunger at 8am on a Sunday morning and eventually to us loosing the battle and moving onward to Wellington (don’t worry, we were responsible about our departure and the owners of the house were impressed with us- we didn’t leave ’em in the lurch).

Well. Wellington Once More

Sunday we headed to Wellington for our second visit and Steve & Danielle’s first. We were able to get into our accommodations early and chatted to the owners a little bit before watching the last period of the hockey game and then headed out to the city.

We wandered around a while near the harbour and were able to take in the last hour of the markets on display before FINALLY (we’ve been encouraged to go by several people since arriving in NZ) checking out the Te Papa museum- which was all together spectacular. We will definitely be back to check out more exhibits, but were grateful to have been able to see a couple anyway- including the phenomenal Gallipoli display (created by the Weta Workshop).

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From there, we headed to Courtenay place to grab some sushi and craft beer. We were glad to take in the city centre a little bit and enjoyed playing games at a quite pub before tracking down the mysterious *french toast sticks* at Burger King.

The next morning we hit the city early for our favourite breakfast at Ti Kouka. We avoiding looming devastation by identifying the rosti in the house hash browns and were able to get our fill before moving on to coffee and soda at Six Barrel Co.(this is also where Joel modelled his attempt at starting a 3 musketeer’s trend-valiant effort, my love).

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Continuing on from the CBD, we drove around to Miramar for: some light Peter Jackson stalking (it was very innocent- we just drove by his house and he happened to be looking out his window), lunch with a view at Maranui cafe (I had a killer turmeric chai latte there which was both curious and delicious), a Gandalf/Smaug visit (at the Wellington airport), hunting for sea-glass and blue penguins, then a stop off at Weta Cave-where most of the crew went on a studio tour. Joel and I just hung out and watched the documentary about Weta as well as enjoyed a little walk around the neighbourhood- knowing we’ll be back to Weta again in December with our parents.

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Having thoroughly explored the city in our very full day, we retired for the evening, enjoyed some snacks and yet another Taika Waititi film- this time, Eagle vs. Shark. With a low-key evening and early bed time we were ready for a day of hiking the paths of the dead.

Take a Hike

Tuesday morning we were up and out of the house with our Airbnb hosts, ready to wind our way through Wairarapa towards the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve which was used in LOTRs for the paths of the dead.

Along the way, we found the tiniest town to stop for fuel (both for the car and to create odd little gas-station lunches for ourselves), and quickly realized that one wee shop along the way is clearly a place for the locals to mingle. Everyone seemed to know everyone else (except us, of course).

Peter Jackson had visited Putangirua Pinnacles as a kid, and we could see why- a rugged coast line lead us to really unusual land formations. Run-off and erosions has eaten away at the gravelly soil and left beautifully haunting cathedral-like cliffs. Really cool area to see!

We hiked along the creek bed for just over an hour and admired the uniqueness of the landscape as we went, again reminded of this country’s vastness and diversity.

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I was clearly quite taken with our surroundings.  When you walk beside these giants, you’re warned to be careful of falling rocks and the cliffs seem to only be held together by malleable, blue-grey clay.

As we walked back, Stacey pointed out the sedimentary rock along the creek that feature loads of seashells, and well… I thought that was pretty neat. We both stopped several times to snap photos.

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Further on down the road we found Cape Palliser. The Cape offers a couple interesting attractions- the first being a large seal colony, the next is a fabulous lighthouse.

I was reminded of Kaikoura on the South Island, but the seals here seemed to be more camouflaged. We parked the car and started to hike around some of the rocks- hoping to give the seals lots of space so they felt comfortable with us being around. We quickly realized that the seals could really be anywhere! I cautiously toured the area to be sure I wasn’t going to step on a basking seal- which seemed to be around every corner.

At one point I was admiring the coastal rock and after a while, I realized there were a handful of seals on the rocks I’d been checking out. I started counting and found there had been nearly 20 seals in my eyeline the whole time!

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A short drive and a gentle steam ford from the seals was a real lovely lighthouse… with the staircase from hell. We climbed to the top for some exercise and a magnificent view- thankfully we were able to fight the wind’s attempts to blow us off the hilltop.

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From the lighthouse we headed to PaknSave for some dinner staples (don’t worry- we didn’t eat staples for dinner) and continued toward Eketahuna for a rural retreat and a surprising gem of an Airbnb.

We found ourselves at a little country house off the beaten track and we loved it! The place was newly renovated, it had an impressively stocked kitchen, 2 fireplaces that quickly warmed the entire house and provided a quite, quaint stop for us to rest up. We made a feast and enjoyed tim tam slams while sharing all the jokes we could collectively think of.

Wednesday morning we loaded up the car and braced ourselves for a long day of driving.  Just to really get our money’s worth… we had a stopover in Napier to share this beautiful city with friends. Our whirlwind tour included a wander downtown, Mr. D’s donuts, lunch and a chance to watch Canada play in the World Cup (thanks to a friendly barman who allowed us to watch in a quiet pub).

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Once we had had our fill of Napier, we headed back to Papamoa and all by collapsed upon our arrival. What a road trip!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Not to waste any time we had together, we were off again the next day for our Hobbiton sequel. There were rainfall warnings in the Bay of Plenty, and we were all a bit wary about going all that way just to be walking around the countryside looking and feeling like drown rats, but… we had already purchased our tickets and didn’t have much option for refund or time to squeeze in the set before Steve and Danielle headed back to Canada. SO with rain gear and hopeful hearts we drove towards Matamata.

The really amazing thing was that because of the rain, every other person who was originally part of our 1:45 tour had cancelled, leaving us with a private tour! This was really cool and even though we’d been before, it gave us a completely new experience.

We were able to take pictures of the landscape without hoards of people in our shots and we interacted more meaningfully with our tour guide (who seemed to be really impressed with Steve and Danielle’s LOTR knowledge).

We even got to see Peter Jackson again!

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Thirty?!

September 30th this year was my 30th birthday!! Pretty cool.

I had been a bit sad about being here for my *royal birthday* without many friends and family around to celebrate. I’m not usually too big on birthday, really- but this one seemed significant.

I always tend to get a big weepy around my birthday, and this year was no exception.  I ended up having a particularly rough evening and Joel felt like he had to tell me part of his plan so that I didn’t feel like everyone had forgotten me.

Joel really did quite a bit of secret planning, and I am so grateful that he did- what an all star!

He had arranged for family and friends to send me postcards (cards and parcels ended up being a part of the surprise, too) hoping to have 30 arrive for me by my birthday. Even today pieces of mail that arrived and at last count I was at 35 notes/treats/etc!!

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Wow, what a blessing I felt so, so loved. Thank you again to all those folks who participated. It really meant the world to me <3

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After opening some of my mail, all 6 of us went out to breakfast and Steve and Danielle treated us to our meals (so sweet).

Fun fact- I only just got my ears pierced before my birthday, so it was really nice to get some earrings in some of my parcels (which I continued to open over breakfast)!

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Later that day even more fun things arrived in the mail- like my de-constructed birthday cake… macarons!  Joel had ordered these delicious treats to enjoy straight from Christchurch.  Not only are they scrumptious, but don’t they look lovely?!

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After a bit of downtime, Joel surprised me by making dinner reservations at a chic spot in the Mount called Postbank. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal- Joel had this really cool cocktail that came covered in a dome filled with Manuka smoke and we loved trying so many different flavours throughout our meals: venison, pork croquettes, beetroot gnocchi, pork belly.

It was a lovely evening out and I am so blessed to have such a thoughtful husband! He went above and beyond to make me feel special and loved. Thanks, punk.

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This year has been a great one- our wedding, moving waaaayyyyy over here and my 30th have all been real milestones and I can’t imagine what the next year may hold.

Steve and Danielle left the day after my birthday and were able to regroup a little bit in the morning before Brandon and Stacey took them to Auckland for ice cream and their departure. It was a pleasure to have them here, and we hope they had the best time!

Whatta month. Can’t believe we’re less then 3 months away from home now!

 

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