A week with my sister, our first visitor

[If you can get through to the end, you’re my favorite!]

Our first visitor to New Zealand! We were all so excited to see my sister, Natalie. I was looking forward to catching up with her while showing her the best of the new place we call home. But we were also excited to see places with her that we’d yet to visit, first of which was Rotorua, or as Auric says, “RotaRoota.”

Sunday, January 20th–Rotorua

Here we are, about to drive up to meet Natalie in Rotorua.

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I’m getting to be a pro at going through the Waioeka (why-oh-ECK-a) Gorge, and also enduring the broken record from the back, “Are we at the Gorge yet? Is this the Gorge? How long till we get to the Gorge? Are we almost out of the Gorge?” Gahhh! Thora gets carsick so she’s anxious about getting through the gorge and its 40 minutes of constant switchbacks. Auric does not get carsick (yet), but knows that when we get to the gorge, I’ll let them both chew mint gum to ward off carsickness, so he is excited for gum. I just turn up the Adele–they always request Adele–and we belt out songs all the way to Opotiki (oh-PO-ti-ki).

But after about 2 and a half hours, we could smell that we were close to Rotorua. The thermal activity that causes the hot springs and the geysers comes with a sulfuric odor which you get used to pretty much immediately but is strong nonetheless.

We picked up my sister at the airport in town and checked into our hotel, The Sport of Kings. (I highly recommend it!) It already being the late afternoon, we thought there wouldn’t be time enough to hit a local attraction. So instead, we went down to the lakefront, hung out by the water, and played in the very nice playground until dinner.

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We ate dinner at the Pig and Whistle, a family-friendly pub, which I’d also recommend. We swam in the heated hotel pool, and in our own private spa pool in a little room off the bedroom that my sister and I were sharing.

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(Although, since the spa pool wasn’t scorching hot–how I like my spa pools–in retrospect, we didn’t need a room with a private spa pool. The pool on the hotel grounds would’ve perfectly suited our family’s needs.) Then it was off to bed.

Monday, January 21st–Rotorua

The next day was our only full day in Rotorua. We started out with a trip up one of the big hills in a gondola to Skyline Luge. Although I really don’t like being suspended from great heights, our time on the hill (which involved a round-trip gondola ride and 5 round-trips on the chairlifts [GAH!]) was our favorite time in Rotorua.

Here’s a view going up the hill.

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And a view looking back down the hill at the beautiful Lake Rotorua. (You can also make out some of the luge tracks in the lower right-hand corner.)

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And here we are inside the gondola.

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Once up on the hill, you pick out a helmet and you go line up. The first time through, you line up in the “first timers” line and they make sure you understand how to use the luge. (It’s very simple.) Natalie and I each rode tandem with one of the kids. And we had a blast. The luges get going pretty fast, but you always feel in control of the speed. It was great fun careening down those twisty-turny roads, through tunnels, and under the chairlifts high above you. And much of the speedy trips down, you get spectacular views of Lake Rotorua. In my daily life, there are a surprising number of times when I think, “God! I wish I had a steady cam that I could strap to a helmet on my head.” (Yes, I know I probably have problem.) This was one of those times. Alas…

Here’s one of the only photos we got of our time on the hill. (See?!? If only I had a camera strapped to my head!) And I barely got this one. I had to gather the courage to slowly turn around in my seat and slowly suspend my hand, holding my phone, out over the disappearing ground below me — okay, even thinking about this is too much for my fear of heights. Moving on.

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Despite my fear, though, I would happily endure that ride up the hill (5 times) in the chairlift, with it’s single bar in front of us, which was more an arm rest than a restraint, because luge-ing down was so much fun! Just don’t get tricky and almost get yourself trapped on the luge when you’re trying to drive it into the return-corral in an effort to get it as close to the conveyor belt as possible because you don’t like how they are mildly unwieldy once you’ve gotten out. I’m not going to get into it, just that it’s not worth getting caught on the moving conveyor belt while you’re still in your luge as it’s about to go under the low railing and subsequently hooked onto the bottom of a chairlift for the ride back up. Okay, yes, I almost did this. And while not injurious, it was fairly embarrassing, although it caused a good amount of amusement for Natalie, I think.

We had lunch up on the hill and then it was back down to the attraction that shares a parking lot with the luge, Rainbow Springs. This place has an awesome playground, a mediocre birdshow (I really wanted to like this), and a log ride, a la Six Flags, as well as other things. Truthfully, we were all kind of spent. It was sunny and quite warm and we’d worn ourselves out with the luge-ing all morning. In retrospect, we should’ve regrouped (perhaps with a swim at the hotel) and then tried for something hot springs- or bubbling mudpit-related. But no. I pushed on. I’ll be the first to admit that despite my reading up on Rotorua, and asking a bunch of people, I don’t think I planned our limited time there effectively. (Natalie, if you ever want to go back, I’m determined to get it right!) But, instead, we all kind of sweat and shuffled around Rainbow Springs before finally admitting defeat and leaving. (There was one highlight, namely Auric and Natalie sitting in the front row of the log ride, which as you can imagine, scared the dimples off of poor Auric. Poor, poor Auric. Still, it was hard not to laugh.)

We had dinner this night at The Fat Dog Cafe, also recommended for easy, family-friendly fare. Here the kids are being cute during dinner.

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Those are very awesome racecar-shaped crayons.

Tuesday, January 22nd–Rotorua to Gisborne

The next morning was our last bit of time in Rotorua. We checked out and headed slightly out of town to Paradise Valley Springs, where the big draw is the chance to pet a lion cub. They happen to have two female cubs that you can pet for a short time each day. (This came highly recommended from friends here.) They also have trout and ducks to feed, as well as fawn, goats, ponies, llamas, and other farm animals to pet and feed. Here we are posing with an over-sized kiwi.

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We wandered around, consoling Auric each time he fell and skinned his knees (seriously, he fell no less than 30 times during our 2 hours here), fed the ducks and huge rainbow and brown trout, and later consoled Auric when he became terrified by this wild and yet seemingly harmless bird, the Pukeko. It’d been following us because, duh, we had two kids carrying bags of the duck and trout food that we’d bought when we first arrived. This bird’s persistence really began to trouble Auric; it was always about 10 feet back from us as we walked along the boardwalk path. He became terrified which, if memory serves, caused him to run away and then fall down and skin a knee. In fact, this bird was so terrifying, that when my sister turned around to snap its picture, it turned and fled.

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Then it was lion time. We first got a look at the adults.

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Then it was baby lion time.

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Then it was time to see the rest of the petting zoo. Here are the highlights.

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Then it was back in the car for the 3 hour drive back to Gisborne.

Wednesday, January 23rd–Rere Rockslide and Waterfall (50kms outside of Gisborne city)

Now we had Sean with us and we were up for some brave activity, like the Rere (“ray-ray”) Rockslides and Waterfalls. After traveling along winding, country roads, passed the very nice Eastwood Hill Arboretum, you pull off the main road into a gravel parking lot. We got there around lunchtime. Auric immediately ran and tripped and skinned his just-healed knee in the above mentioned gravel parking lot. But he rallied and made a good time of it.

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Sean has got our kids’ boogie boards, which is what we were planning on using for this adventure. We’d heard exciting and perhaps not entirely consistent things about the rockslides. We’d heard that all the kids who grow up here do this and that they remember when kids did it without anything, no boogie boards, no inner-tubes, just skin. We’d heard we’ve “got to do it!” We’d heard people say, “Well, my kids did it, but I just watched. You’re going to do it? Really?!?” The most accurate description is from the book we have, called NZ Frenzy, which details attractions off-the-beaten-path, in which the author writes,

This is a 60m rock ramp which fans out the stream flow enough to make the whole pitch slide-able. Amazing… just slippery and pitched enough to haul ass, but gentle enough not to maim you in the process. Still, it’s not for the overly timid… you do rush down the slope clutching your boogie-board for dear life, gaining, gaining speed, no chance to bail out or stop… and SPLASH!… you bounce along the top of the pool like a skipping stone! Laughing, you’ll swim to the edge then hurry up the dry rock ramp so you can do it again… So Cool!

And that basically sums it up. This is what you see.

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It’s definitely slick, and definitely intimidating. Firstly, you see people wiping out… While. They’re. Just. Standing. That doesn’t bode well. And then you notice that the brave people sliding down are almost all bold and invincible and stupid pre-teens and teenagers.  A lot of people have these big, industrial rubber inner tubes, and you look at the flimsy Warehouse (similar to Walmart) boogie boards that you’ve brought. And then for the first time, you see a person lose his/her boogie board on the way down and you watch them bounce along that rock, that, yes, is slick and mossy, but is still ROCK, all the way to the bottom. And you and the small crowd collectively cringe as you empathize with every bump that person hits on the way down. And then you register that there’s a crowd and that that crowd will also be watching you. We all watched for awhile, before Sean, feeling bold and invincible (and stupid?), decided to be the first of our group to brave it. Here it is. Enjoy.

Pretty good, huh? He did it a few more times, and then I was brave enough to go out there. And here’s where it went from brave to embarrassing. (Of course it did.) I stood at the top, letting the kids, one after another, go ahead of me. I was determined to take as much feedback from these kids before I tried it. “Where should I start?” I asked one kid. I was instructed about where to try to stay on the slope, because if you veer too far to the left, you risk running off the slope into the dry, rocky shoulder, and if you veer too far to the right, you risk hitting the really bumpy parts. “But what about that big perpendicular crack about ten feet down? How do I get over that?” I asked another kid. Because that’s what I was fixated on, these seemingly wide cracks that ran across the slope. How do you not just slam into the other side of that crack? “Oh, you just skim right over them. Don’t worry.” Right. After I’d let the same kids go ahead of me a couple times each, they all kind of refused to let me keep encouraging them to cut in front of me. Collectively, they were going to stop enabling my cowardice. And so…

With trepidation, I carefully walked to the precipice. And with as much bravery as I could muster, I laid down on my boogie board, my flimsy little piece of styrofoam covered in a cheap piece of nylon, and… Nothing. So I hopped a little, to get a little water underneath the boogie board, the little stream of water that would ultimately carry me to the bottom of this slope where I would be dragged out because both my arms were broken. I was trying not to even think about what was going to be happening to my legs, just bouncing away against the rock behind me. But nothing. So I gave another little hop. Nothing! I laughed at the irony of this, that now that I’d finally gotten up the courage, I wasn’t going to be able to do it! My self-deprecating laughter released the awkward tension that’d been building in the crowd and they started to laugh a bit too (but with me, not at me, my sister later assured me). Because my earlier cowardice had not gone unnoticed and they were aware of the little drama that had been playing out, with me and the kids and then me finally taking the plunge. Or not, as it were. So for about 10 seconds, I lay there on my boogie board and hopped myself forward. (I was on a fucking slope! Come on!) At this point, a dude from the crowd yelled “go!” and miraculously I did. And I heard the crowd laugh and applaud. But really I wasn’t listening all that closely. I was clutching the front of my board with the most concentration I could muster. It was true. I didn’t even really notice the specific cracks in the slope. I just slid down and tried my hardest to pull up as I hit the water, something I’d watched Sean fail to do his few times down, and managed to hit the water, not with my face, but with the bottom of the board. I didn’t skip across the pond like the kids did. I was just happy not to have concussed myself! I was down! I’d did it! I was a winner! Kind of. I did it a second time, this time thankfully without such build-up.

If you follow the water to the left, the direction from which it flows, the shallow creek is dotted with smooth and mostly flat rocks leading to the deeper part of the river where kids jump off of a small bluff into a very deep pool. Thora and I made a game of traversing the rocks (it was very tricky because of how slick they are) to the pool, where we all convened and Sean and I jumped into the deep pool off the short bluff. Thora jumped in from the shoreline.

Then we were off to the Rere Waterfalls. Here are the highlights.

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They are very pretty and very strong! Trying to get under them is difficult bordering on the painful. The water slams into the top of your head with such force, it almost pulled Natalie’s swimsuit bottoms off! (We didn’t notice; she told us afterwards.) Thora thought this was so much fun, though. Below, we’ve made it to the other side of the falls. I know she looks a little confused and bored, but honestly, it was her idea to keep going under the falls, back and forth.

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Thursday, January 24th–Gisborne

Today, we got Natalie a surf lesson with our surfing mentor, Frank. Here she is learning the basics.

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She even got up a few times on her first lesson! It was a great time at the beach. We lounged in our shade tent until the middle of the afternoon.

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The Holliday Girls and their longboards.

After the beach, we went home, Natalie and I cleaned up, or only a little, because in Gisborne on a sunny summer day, you’re either on your way from the beach or just back. And so it’s perfectly normal to go places, (wineries, fancy dinners, etc.) with a fine layer of sand on you, your hair stiff and little wild, and your eyes bloodshot from the salt water. So away the girls went to Millton Winery for a little of the other thing (besides surfing and great beaches) that Gisborne is known for.

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After we parked and were walking into the Cellar Door (where you do your tasting), we passed this scene, a group of 50-somethings passed out in the sun. Hah!

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And in we went. I should stop here and note that Natalie does NOT like wine. She’s a beer drinker and specifically of the watery, mass-produced variety. But she wanted to visit a winery because it was things kiwis did and because she was an intrepid ambassador for a few of her wine-loving friends back home. Here she is putting on a brave face.

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We sampled their wines, I bought a delicious Merlot Rose, and we headed out. Our original plan had been to hit the other winery out that way, Matawhero (“ma-tah-FAIR-oh”), but we saw no reason to put my sister through that again. However, Sean was home watching the kids. Natalie and I had a few hours to hang out solo and so we drove back into town and after a quick stop at Sunshine Brewery for a taste of the Gisborne Gold, we drove to the Gisborne Tatapouri Sport Fishing Club, a place we’d been encouraged to become members by our friend here, Tony, who’s a serious fisherman himself. They have good food and we’d been told it was great place to take the family for dinner. So Natalie and I drove there to check it out.

It turns out, it is a dead ringer (but bigger) for the yacht club she belongs to in Chicago and where she socializes during much of the summer. The ambiance, the clientele; despite being on the other side of the planet, she felt right at home. They had an open liquor license that weekend (normally only members can drink alcohol) due to a big regional fishing tournament. So we grabbed our cold glass mug from the cooler (this was all new to us) and sauntered up to the bar, just like the regulars. Then we took our beers out to the deck and enjoyed them in the warm summer sun.

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The next day was our only day of rain. And so, Natalie did some work she had to do, and we did some errands as a family, one of which being getting our application to join the fishing club signed by current members. That night, we went there for dinner. A great time was had by all!

The kids were mesmerized by the prize giving that was happening on the small dais.

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I forgot to mention that for the whole trip, Natalie and I wore matching tshirts. Here we are on our last night together.

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It got late, passed the kids’ bedtime, and so Sean took them home so Natalie and I could hang out for a bit longer. But not before she could give them big hugs.

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This one is Auric, getting tipped upside down.

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We stayed for a beer or three, laughed, enjoyed the sunset and the balmy evening, met some people and chatted with them for a while, until getting a cab back home. Natalie had to be at the Gisborne airport at 6 am for her flight back up to Auckland where she would take a long haul flight to Hawaii.

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I’m so grateful for Natalie’s visit. She was the first to see us in our new element (I pretty sure she approves) and the first to test out our budding skill at showing off our new home. We’re constantly having new encounters, discovering new restaurants, seeing attractions that wow us. I hope Natalie’s visit is the first of many of our family and friends. And I look forward to when Natalie visits again someday. I think fondly on all the new places we’ll have to show her then. The optimism I’m feeling right now is positively narcotic. Thank you, Natalie, for coming so far to see us, and for giving us a great week!

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This entry was posted in New Zealand, Roadtripping, Summer, Visitors and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A week with my sister, our first visitor

  1. Julie P says:

    Made it thru the whole post! Glad it was a great time.

  2. Pingback: Our first visit from Sean’s parents was a surprise for the kids | Countdown To New Zealand: On the Road to Becoming an American Ex-Pat

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