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New Year Trip: 5~Bye family, hello friends

Later on back in Parakai we walked around to see friends who live not far from mum and dad. I went to primary school with Krissy and she stayed in the area, now married with two children. On the way is this eye-catching place. Pretty sure if I was a pre-schooler I’d want to go here.

The wonderfully colourful local kindergarten

We had tea with mum, dad and gran, though the Indian takeaway in Helensville did the cooking. Mum went through with dad some plans for their upcoming trip to the UK. They’re off in April and I’m joining them early May. More about that later!

Mum explains some details for their trip while dad gives me a suspicious eye and gran goes about her business

The next morning it was time to move on to the next phase of our holiday. We called in to say bye to the family.

Gran lives with mum & dad now so I get to see her more often

Didn’t see much of my brother during our brief stay in Parakai. I left this likeness of him on the kitchen message board.

My brother isn't a crustacean though he may have resembled one because of his sunburn

We travelled to nearby Kaukapakapa, another rural district on the other side of Helensville. My friend Trish lives there and I hadn’t seen her for a few years.

Big Hayley, little Trish

I met her at my first job and back in our single days we used to go out a bit. Fond memories of Georgie Pie pies and ice cream sundaes in the wee small hours! Anyway, fast forward some 20 years and today Trish has two teenage daughters and various animals. I took a shine to one pet in particular…

I could have popped Trish's pet chihuahua in my bag and taken it home

Then it was time to head into Auckland, stopping off in Albany where it seemed that much of the North Shore population was in the Westfield mall. We were destined for an area of West Auckland and in the olden days the north and west parts of the city were not conveniently located so I was expecting a bit of phfaffing around. Well blow me if a new motorway hadn’t gone and popped up and it took next to no time.

And so we briskly arrived at our hosts for the next couple of nights: Kirsten, Mike and one year old Mitchell. I’ve known Kirsten since we were toddlers, growing up in the wop wops of South Head.

Mitch and his mum

And now she has a toddler. Mitch is adorable – Aunty Hayley is a big fan!

Mitch playing with silly Aunty Hayley

New Year Trip: 2~Hometowns are funny places

A bad sleep made for a sluggish start. But lucky for Mike (or perhaps lucky for me) I got to the airport before his flight landed. Rain was somewhere in the forecast but not imminent so we detoured to have lunch in Cornwall Park.

There are worse places to have lunch

We scurried back to Parakai as my friend Hannah and her children were visiting for a couple of hours.

And since the rain had still not arrived I took Mike on a walk. Helensville is my hometown, though we lived quite a ways out in the country. It is always ‘interesting’ (a versatile word I find) to be confronted with things and places from my childhood and teens. Anyway, we wandered into Helensville via a couple of walkways along the river.

The Kaipara River, brown as always, with its collection of moored boats

Flowers, or maybe weeds, I am not to know such things

The old Kaipara Dairy Co-Op Factory, possibly the most interesting feature of Helensville. It was to be sold in December

Remains of a wharf

The old railway, rarely used now

The old bank and post office buildings - of course, in this day and age, they are no longer used for their original purpose

The old picture theatre. So many memories! Including: sitting in the aisle to see Star Wars; crying children at Watership Down; a drunk fellow high school pupil power-spewing during the screening of something; walking out of a movie with the family to find someone had crashed into our parked car.

Such walking endeavours deserved a soak in the spa before dinner with mum, dad and gran. Mum passed on a couple of gifts for me from my aunt. As well as a copy of her recently published first fabulous children’s book, there was also a small trinket that laughed in the face of my spider phobia.

The famdamily, minus brother. Dad was happy to be there honest

My finger is there for scale, rather than to demonstrate how brave I am

Raro day 4: bikes, beaches & bubbles

Another relaxed morning in the tropics turned into a comparatively busy afternoon. The newlyweds were hosting a drop-in at their house and we had a bit of a quandary which I lazily pondered: how would we get there?

It was Sunday which meant a reduced bus service and an inconvenient one at that. It was too far to walk. Didn’t want to hire a car. We were saving a scooter rental until our last day. That left one cunning plan: bicycles. Mike was keen and there was a rental depot a) just over the road; and b) open – so off we went.

There was a little surprise in store for us. Push bikes actually transpired to be hybrid electric bikes. We initially weren’t sure about this but figured ‘what the hey’ and shelled out the $19 each for these power assisted pedalling machines.

Side note: no one wears helmets here. There are a ton of scooters (though nothing like the congested cities of Vietnam etc) and 99% of riders are lidless. If you wear a helmet you can ride 10kph faster – up to the speed limit of 50kph – but the preference far and away seems to be for the cooling effect of the wind through one’s hair…

So we declined the extra $1 for a helmet and got going. It was great! We fair zipped along with the battery adding a lot more momentum than if was just our own pedal power. The hot walk to the supermarket yesterday took only about 10 minutes on the bikes.

About the same distance again brought us to the beachfront house that Sally and Michael were renting where, in our perspiring glory, we joined the few people already gathered.

During our few days in Rarotonga I marvelled at the lack of bugs and nasty things. Didn’t even really get bitten. BUT since getting back home I have learned that Raro has its fair share! Oh yes, and particularly nightmare-inducing are the huntsman spiders and coconut crabs. Omg. I am so glad I was blissfully ignorant about these beforehand. Outside of the ‘sanitised’ resort I would probably have been paranoid visiting a private house as we did this day!

We partook of a sausage, checked out the beach and gawked at the lady exercising her arms while walking along the sand with her dogs. There are a lot of dogs here, some mangy but some lovely ones too. One of the girls was determined to open a coconut but eventually conceded defeat. It began to rain and we all scuttled under cover. It continued to rain, a respectable tropical downpour.

It cleared and the afternoon was marching on so we said our goodbyes and mounted our metal steeds for the brisk return trip. We wound them up to warp speed 5, about 30kph, so not too shabby. Back at the resort we squeezed them into a parking space amongst the hoards of fully motorised two wheelers.

It’s easy to cool down with the lagoon all around. I didn’t swim as such but at least got in the water. There was time before the activities hut closed for the day so Mike grabbed some snorkelling gear while I supervised from my lounger.

We had a couple of appointments to keep that evening. Sunset watch, ultimately futile, but accompanied by one of our duty free bottles of bubbly. Bubbles at the beach is one of life’s simple indulgences. With not much happening in the evening sky we headed along to the resort’s buffet roast night. We ate our money’s worth while the solo entertainer crooned along with his backing tracks.

Resort life winds down early so with full tums we retired for another dose of sitcom repeats.

The resort parking bay, scooters galore and two electric bikes

Out for a stroll in the lagoon

A sea slug - yickkkh

Snorkelers in front of the reef

Their turn today; our turn tomorrow

On sunset watch in between twilight bubbly and tottering off to dinner

Though this was about as good as the sunset got

Raro day 3: the markets and a wedding

Saturday arrived and with it the main purpose of the trip. First priority of the day though was to visit the Punanga Nui markets in Avarua. Billed as a must-visit we were keen to go but not at the expense of our holiday sleep-in!

The buses supposedly run twice an hour on market day but this wasn’t our experience and so we got there later than intended. First impressions made me itchy to start racing around – big open space, lots of craft and food stalls, lots of people.

It was hot, damn hot, and sunny. Though not for long. For lunch the hot chicken pita pockets called out to us and before we’d finished them it started raining. It was nearing midday and we scurried around the last few stalls, picking up a small wooden turtle as the traditional trip keepsake to take home.

Rain on the way?

The markets, a fantastic place for souvenirs, crafts and lunch

With the dubious bus schedule in mind and a wedding to think about getting ready for, we gathered at what we assumed was the bus stop where lo and behold, a service arrived on time.

Back at the ranch, or resort at least, I had enough time for a brief wrestle with the internet during which time it rained again. Still, this was the opposite side of the island to the wedding venue and given the nature of tropical climate rain, it wasn’t worth worrying about the forecast for later on.

Then it really was time to start the process of getting ready and I could’ve done with longer as rushed to get finished in time for our scheduled pick-up. With a couple of other collections along the way, we reached the venue with 45 minutes to spare so there was ample time to check the place out.

Tamarind House “is a beautifully restored heritage colonial house set on 2.5 acres of lawns sweeping down to the beach. … You can enjoy a feeling of nostalgia for a bygone era in the peaceful seclusion of our truly unique tropical setting.” Dating back to 1910ish it was first the residence of Union Steamship Company management and later the British Consul. Today it is a restaurant and a rather perfect wedding venue as well.

The other girls had also arrived and all looked gorgeous in their various dresses. It was hot and sunny and I kicked myself for not buying a woven fan from the markets as they had. There was a strong warm breeze which quickly dealt to the hair that I had carefully blown dry. O well.

Gradually the remainder of the guests arrived and all 50ish of us gathered near the deck above the beach where the ceremony was to be held. The groom and his best man (actually his son) were in position… and… waiting…

Tamarind House was a fabulous venue - beach and sea views out front and rugged hills behind

No matter where you go, coconuts are never far away

We didn't know whether to be amused or dismayed when a black cat wandered in and proceeded to make itself at home

The string band were ‘given the nod’ and resumed playing as the first of the flower girls peeked around the corner. One by one they walked in, followed by Sally’s sister as matron of honour, and then Sally with her dad. They all looked wonderful. Sally was never going to do the full white traditional thing and her silver dress was gorgeous and so very her.

After a brief pause while a tissue was procured for the emotional bride!, the ceremony got underway. It was relatively short and before long we had a newly married couple standing before us. Congratulations flowed and group photo organisation began.

We get our first glimpse of Sally

The ceremony gets underway

Sally and Michael, relaxed now that the first part is over

The flowergirls were the stars of the day

While the main wedding photos were being taken we did our best to keep cool

...Until it was our turn

As the afternoon turned to twilight we moved into the restaurant. Speeches were followed by a lovely meal. With darkness firmly ensconced we were then treated to a cultural show comprising drummers and dancers. I’ve always loved Cook Islands drums and really enjoyed this unexpected part of the night. The dancing was both traditional (everyone marvelling at the fluidity of the girls’ hips) and supplemented with fire sticks. Great skills.

Twas a beautiful calm night

The cultural show was a highlight, starting with iconic drums and hypnotic hips

Mike and I found ourselves part of the entertainment - and no we haven't since given up our day jobs

Most children are taught not to play with fire

The spectacular finale featuring all of the dance troupe

The rest of the night involved DJ tunes and dancing (of a different kind from before) for keen ones, or else just sitting around chatting and enjoying the setting. And if you were me, nursing a stupid headache. We had to be wrapped up before midnight and in the same way that the day started with a late bus, so it ended that way too. When it arrived we all crammed aboard for the clockwise procession of drop-offs.

It’s probably safe to say that every one of us was grateful to Sally and Michael for choosing Raro to have their wedding and making us all come to this fantastic place.

Raro day 2: relaxation & drinks with the girls

Day two dawned overcast and with the same breeze/wind as yesterday. I could see my opportunities to grab some colour before the wedding on Saturday dwindling. We did the breakfast thing and were greeted with rain spits on the way back.

With no particular plan for most of the day we hung around the resort. The weather obliged a little and there was some lounging around outside. I finished one book and discovered that the other book I brought I had read before. Hate that. We eavesdropped on the unit above us where a bride and her entourage were getting ready.

Pausing on loungers near the kayak station

One of the locally crafted artworks at the resort

Is this a hibiscus? I'm useless with flowers. There are loads of things in bloom here, tis all very pretty.

In clusters around the resort are tons of these stones which mark each wedding held here.

I also did a fair bit of wrestling with internet access. No matter where I sat the bloody wireless hotspot eluded me and I soon realised I should abandon any ambition of more regular blog updates.

There was a rough plan to catch up with Sally the bride-to-be and some of the (ex-)Wellington girls also here for the wedding. Eventually plans materialised and Sally picked me up on her rented scooter to meet the others at their resort. Drinks, nibbles and gossip ensued for a couple of hours until we headed out for dinner.

Sally arriving to pick me up. I did manage to fit on the back but not without sustaining a huge bruise in the process...

L-R: Megan, Danielle, Fleur, Michele, Glenda, Sally, me, Michelle

Huddled around Dan’s mobility scooter (...on account of her sprained ankle!)

Most of us continued on to a bar/restaurant located near the Avarua township. This turned out to be a $45 taxi ride which I think took us all by surprise as it was probably less than 10kms. Located right on the waters’ edge, Trader Jacks is a fairly rustic building and was rebuilt after a hurricane flattened it a few years ago.

We enjoyed a few drinks first and the girls were quick to scope out members of the French navy in town… Rarotonga is apparently a two day sea journey from Tahiti. But focusing back to the main reason for the outing: our meals were all seafood based and not only excellent quality but also excellent value.

On account of the wedding the next day it wasn’t a big night. The island buses run clockwise once an hour at night (Raro is only 32km full circle) so similar to when we arrived, my first exposure to the other half of the island was in darkness. I couldn’t wait to see it in daylight.

Sprung this fella crabbing through the closed downstairs cafe area on my way back through our resort.

Manitoba beaches and other stuff

One day we grabbed our winter woollies and bundled into Angela and Adam’s car for a day trip to see what else Manitoba has to offer.

Lake Winnipeg was first up, the southern end being some 55kms north of the city. It is a massive body of water: about 24,500 square kilometres. In comparison, Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake by surface area, is just a wee drop at only 616 square kms!

We stopped for gas at an interesting place called Sherwood Forest. Luckily not a long stop – I’m sure I heard duelling banjos in the distance…

Grand Beach is one of several communities round the lake and a popular destination in summer. But this was the latter half of October and I was getting an early taste of how cold it gets in these parts during winter.

Clearly not a summer visit to Lake Winnipeg

We had passed bits of snow on the roadside on the way up and around the lake ice was beginning to form.

The bonus of this unbeachy weather is that we basically had the place to ourselves.

Although there were definitely creatures around.

Who needs a chainsaw when you have a beaver

This is what they call cottage country, with many houses being more holiday cottages than year round residences. The little nearby settlement was quiet but pleasant.

On the way back to Winnipeg we detoured for a quick look at Springhill, a small ski field only 15 minutes from downtown. It’s just off the highway which is visible in the background.

Waiting for snow

Another detour took us to the Fort Whyte Centre, a bit of a wild life and bird life reserve. A couple of hours were easily spent walking the trails and looking through the facilities.

Geese doing what geese do

With a bison at the visitor centre. Still cuddly even though he was a bit dead.

Soon enough my week in Winnipeg drew to a close. I’m sure I’ll return one day if Angela is still there when I next get back to Canada. As I was leaving another North American tradition was on the horizon: Halloween.

Ange started the Halloween adornments before I left

I was also nearing the end of this trip and about to get my final dose of Greyhound. Toronto was a mere 30 hours away.

Relaxing in Muddy Waters

After a few weeks on the go it was time to chill for a while. I bid farewell to Churchill and climbed onboard the train for the 40-odd hour journey back to Winnipeg, which was to be my stop for the next few days. Not sure how much of a destination it is ordinarily and if not for my friend Angela living there I would likely have skipped over it.

Angela and I were penpals had met in person once, 16 years before, when a group from her school toured NZ. To be able to see her again was fantastic, especially on her home turf.

With Angela and her partner Adam

Winnipeg lies on the edge of the expansive prairies that span Manitoba and further west. Its origins as a trading area and garrison are perhaps not surprising given its location at the junction of two major rivers. Winnipeg in Cree means ‘muddy waters’.

Angela took me to a number of local attractions. The rivers meet at a place called The Forks which today is a destination for culture and entertainment. We wandered around the markets, as well as the nearby Fort Gibraltar and St Boniface Cathedral.

View over The Forks

Market at The Forks

St Boniface

We went to the zoo in Assiniboine Park which was pleasant enough and housed some furred and feathered creatures that I don’t often see.

The more I look at them, the odder they seem

I didn’t like seeing the lone polar bear in its enclosure. I remember when there were two polar bears in the Auckland Zoo and now feel very strongly that they just do not belong in captivity.

Winnipeg has a famous historical bear connection: Winnie the Pooh was named after a WW1 army officer’s actual pet bear which he named after his home town, Winnipeg. That bear ended up in London Zoo.

I coincided my visit with Angela’s birthday and also Canadian thanksgiving – my first experience of this North American tradition. These occasions were spent with other members of Ange’s family and it was good to meet names that I had heard about over the previous 20 years.

Thanksgiving with Ange's family

We had a great day trip outside the city which I’ll cover next. We may have been in prairie country but we were off to the beach!

One night in Queenstown

So there I was checking into the hotel, trying to fulfil the standard request for a credit card, and realised with horror – I didn’t have mine. Just starting one’s holiday and no credit card… disaster! (Luckily Mike was less forgetful.)

It was Saturday night in Queenstown. We were having tea with friends and then going to a concert. Our hotel was a 10-15 minute picturesque lakeside walk from town and we set off before the shops closed. Mike was keen to scope out a couple of snowboard and skate shops owned by friend Ants, who had also organised the evening’s activities. With a couple of purchases lined up for the end of the week we went to sort ourselves out with a pre-dinner beverage.

We met what turned out to be a group of 12 at Lucianos on the wharf. The meal was excellent, and the local pinot gris not bad either. The big storm front reportedly on the way was a discussion point as a few of the group were planning to fly home the next day.

Then it was out to the events centre at Frankton, venue for a concert featuring a few kiwi performers including Shihad. The show was the after-party for the Burton NZ Open (snowboarding comp) held that week. Due to his work connections Ants got us into the VIP lounge which was the mezzanine level and looked over the main floor where the majority of punters were. Though it was still a cash bar we had good views and didn’t have to stand on the cans and so forth as was the scene below. It was great to be amongst live music again, and while dub stuff is all well and good, I’m more about the rock stuff so it was great hearing Shihad for the first time.

We caught a free bus back into town and decided to walk back to the hotel. Going past the masses queuing outside the Queenstown institution that is Fergberger made me feel hungry. We deviated into the 24hr food mart and, well, there were the pies. So I notched up no.3 as we made the quiet lakeside stroll back to Fernhill.

It was a great night but the question still remained: when would the storm arrive?

A serene stroll into town

The TSS Earnslaw steaming back to base

A dusky Lake Wakatipu shore

End of the wharf at twilight

Ahhhhh...

Kora

Shihad doing their thing

Fun and sun on the Sunshine Coast

After the recent mention of my trip to Fiji I was reminded of a holiday I had on Australia’s Sunshine Coast six years ago. Similarities between the two were the holiday resort feel and my friend Hannah.

Left to our own devices Hannah and I have been known to get up to a bit of mischief, however this trip included the moderating factors of her partner and 11 month old daughter. They had planned a holiday in Noosa and for whatever the reason, I joined them for part of it. Maybe I invited myself?

Brisbane is three hours by air from Auckland and Noosa for me was another couple of hours away via a shuttle van that deviated here and there. Hannah picked me up in town for the five minute drive to a flash gated community containing the friend’s holiday house where they were staying.

Over the next few days we did a lot of local tiki-touring. Noosaville the town was great, nice to wander around though it seemed quite high-end and boutiquey, not somewhere to do much holiday shopping. The restaurants along the beachfront were conducive to frittering away afternoons and evenings with cocktails and desert concoctions while looking over the beach and water.

During a dinner out I had one such cocktail, a very rich creamy number, and as a result had to spend much of the next day in bed. (Or maybe it was something I ate.) Anyhow – bit of a wasted day.

We spent a fair bit of time on and around the main beach. It may have been winter but the climate was very mild and we relished the sunshine. Other local attractions included the Noosa River, a good place for pelican spotting, and the Noosa National Park, featuring a lovely shaded walkway through tall gumtrees and the like. I was kept busy looking up for koalas and birdlife, down for lizards and snakes, and pretty much everywhere for spiders. Whether this was reasonable or not I don’t remember, but heck it was Australia.

Thankfully during my holiday I didn’t see any of the monstrous spiders (basically man-eaters) that I’d heard horror stories about.

A little further afield there were some great day trips including the fantastic Eumundi markets. Among our efforts that day I bought a photo album, Hannah had her palms read and wee Sarah had a caricature drawn. Also excellent was the sprawling Australia Zoo with its huge assortment of Aussie wildlife. At one point while being transported between attractions we saw Steve Irwin drive by in the opposite direction. He gave us a wave. A little over a year later he died.

All too soon the week was up and we headed home back to the NZ winter. I haven’t been over there since but on the basis of this holiday I wouldn’t take much convincing!

Enjoying the late afternoon sun on Noosa beach with Hannah and baby Sarah

Enjoying the late afternoon sun on Noosa beach with Hannah and baby Sarah

Sarah on the boardwalk at Noosa beach

Sarah on the boardwalk at Noosa beach

Noosa National Park borders the coast

Noosa National Park borders the coast

Pelicans on Noosa River

Pelicans on Noosa River

Gum tree

Gum tree

Sunset from the golf course next to where we were staying

Sunset from the golf course next to where we were staying

Counting down to island time

Time has a habit of going fast enough these days without doing anything to encourage it, but we’ve just booked a holiday for November. This will further hasten the year along and be a nice reward after a busy few months ahead.

This short break is to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Most Kiwis that seek island sun go during the NZ winter, so roughly the middle of the year, however not us because we’re going to a wedding. Some of the wedding guests caught up today at a girls’ lunch in Wellington…

Girls' lunch featuring a number of wedding guests including bride-to-be Sally at bottom left

We were sitting with the travel agent confirming the booking when news of the Christchurch earthquake came through. In a split second our high spirits took a dive as it felt a bit off doing something so frivolous when people were trapped and dying. We completed our business there and went straight back to work to check the news.

Relaxation holidays – and no visit to the islands could be anything else – aren’t something I commonly do. I love them but when there is just so much out there in the world to see and do, they seem like an indulgence that get shunted down the priority list. But the wedding is a good excuse!

The only other time I’ve been to the islands was Fiji for a girls’ trip in about 2000. In honour of the approximately 10th-ish anniversary of that brilliant holiday I’ve scanned (scanned!) a couple of photos…

My friend Hannah and I at Plantation Island Resort, Fiji

Hannah and a little friend

A page from my photo album

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