Our first visit from Sean’s parents was a surprise for the kids

Given how curious-bordering-on-nosey our oldest is, a surprise of this caliber was substantial. But it was a success. The kids had absolutely no idea. The plan came together rather quickly. Sean and I were already planning to be in Auckland for the Auckland marathon over the first weekend of November. Our good friends here in Gizzy offered to look after our kids for the 30 hours or so that we would be away. Meanwhile, my in-laws were planning on a visit for sometime in early 2014. However, upon looking at flights, they found that it was cheaper to fly in a few short weeks in order to travel over the low season than to book in advance for the high season. So they sprung it on us: “What if we meet you Auckland?” they said. “And what if we keep it a surprise for the kids?” Yes! and Yes!

On the day before the race, Sean and I flew up to Auckland and were met by Sean’s parents, who’d arrived a few days before us. We had a lovely dinner before retiring to our rooms to get as much sleep as we could, which turned out to be not a lot, before the next morning’s early start.

Sean was running the full marathon and its unpleasantly early start time meant that he needed to catch a 4:45 am ferry over to Devonport, where the race started. I followed shortly behind him, my half-marathon starting about 30 minutes later. I snapped this as we queued-up for the ferry in the pre-dawn hours.

05The course was pretty flat and fast. I felt great running it. I couldn’t help but snap a few photos along the way, though. Here is the kapa haka group that sang us passed the 11k mark. I had less than half to go, now.

06This was the view of downtown Auckland. I just had to get over there, by way of the Harbour Bridge.


This group of drummers encouraged us up the incline over the bridge. Once over the bridge, we’d only have about 4 kms to go.


We finished in one piece! Here is Sean finishing the full marathon. He’s my hero.


09Sean was a bit worse for wear, completing the marathon in under 4 1/4 hours. I was the exhausted and sore version of elated. In fact it was my happiness at the end of this race that foolishly planted the seed in my head to try my first full marathon, the one I completed recently. Looking at this picture, I can’t help but think how naive I was. So, so naive. (Wink, Natalie.)

After a shower and a little rest, we went for a late lunch of tapas at this little food court in downtown Auckland.




Then it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then off to the airport. Once back in Gizzy, we dropped Sean’s folks off at our house before picking up the kids from their friends’ house. We told them that we had a surprise for them at home. Once home, I pretended that I couldn’t find the key to get us in and told Thora to knock. She looked confused. Who would be on the inside to let us in if we were all standing out here on the porch? But who opened the door but Grandma and Grandpa! It was beautiful how happy the kids were, after they overcame their confusion.



03Once the surprise had dissolved into a low-grade happiness, the kids and grandparents settled down to read stories.


And we began planning the itinerary for our vacation with them.

Our first bit of sight-seeing was the historic wharf at Tologa Bay, just under an hour’s drive north of Gisborne.


Then we were off to Rotorua. We spent a wet afternoon at the impressive Rotorua Museum, located in the Government Gardens.

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44The next day, we drove across the Waikato region, to Waitomo, near the North Island’s west coast. We’d visited the breathtaking and impossible-to-overhype glowworm caves back in April with our friends, The Doyles. We wanted Sean’s parents to get a chance to see them as well. So we sent the kids and the grandparents on a Spellbound tour. If you want a sense for the stunning beauty that they saw, click on the two previous links.

Meanwhile, Sean and I saw this as an opportunity to try something that we couldn’t do with little kids, namely, a black water rafting trip with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. I’m glad that we got the chance to see the glowworms at their extreme with Spellbound, since this tour was less about the wonder of the glowworms and more about having an adventure while seeing glowworms.

Despite seeing fewer glowworms, we had a lot fun. It was intense at times (jumping backwards off of small waterfalls and drifting along a river of cave water in near blackness, except for the green pins of light on the cave walls and ceilings), absurd at times (losing my balance and flipping off my inner-tube more times than I’d like to admit), cold at times (we were floating in cold, cave water for three hours) and strenuous (jumping between rocky platforms over rushing water). It was impossible to document the experience with a camera. They took some photos of us prior to going into the cave. Here we are, each having our first try at jumping backwards off of a 10-ft high platform. This was meant to prepare us for jumping backwards over a rushing waterfall in a dark cave.


152Here we are about to go into the cave. So long natural light. See you in a few hours.


After 3 hours in the cold water, we were happy for some hot chocolate while we waited for the kids and grandparents to return.

10The kids and their grandparents joined us after their tour. We all had lunch and then we drove back to Rotorua via the Kiwi House in Otorohanga. We remembered this from when we stopped here with the Doyles. We got to see a lot of wonderful native New Zealand birds, most prized of all, the Kiwi. Since the kiwi is nocturnal, they are kept in special low-light enclosures behind 1-way glass. Because they are so light-sensitive, photography isn’t allowed. But you can see some photos here.




5145Here’s a bird that we had no trouble documenting. In fact we remembered this creature from our first trip here with the Doyles. We all had memories of it following Thom around and squawking relentlessly at him.

48And guess what it’s name is? Thora. Yes, of all the names, this Spur Winged Plover shares her name with another girl who has a lot to say.

46Here she is, doing her thing.

11On the drive back to Rotorua, we had the chance to admire the Waikato landscape, green and hilly.

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The next day, we went to Wai-o-Tapu, a 20 minute drive south of Rotorua. The name means Sacred Water. It is famous for it’s geo-thermal activity (there’s a geyser that they set off once a day), as well as unbelievably colorful spectrum of Mother Nature’s palette in the form of mineral deposits in the water and rock.

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After our time at Wai-o-Tapu, we visited the beautiful Redwood Forest. The air was the cleanest I’d ever smelled, what will all the oxygen production happening in there. It’s free admission makes it the best way to spend a couple hours in Rotorua. They have a variety of different hikes for all-comers.



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Then it was back to Gizzy. Having returned on Saturday, we were in town for the second day of the Gisborne Garden Show, a tour of some of the more impressive gardens in the Gizzy. My in-laws are garden-lovers and so we jumped at the chance to “have a nosey” in some of these gardens.









During Brian and Beverly’s visit, we ate really well when we were at home, especially because we had Brian, our professional guacamole-maker churning out his specialty almost every night.



108When it comes to value in terms of kilo/dollar of protein on the East Coast, you can’t beat green lip mussels. One night we had mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce, on top of shredded zuchinni “pasta.”




We spent a lot of their visit traveling around the North Island. But when we were in Gizzy we easily slipped the grandparents into our normal routine. The kids went to school and then we all re-grouped for the afternoon activities and then dinner. It was a lot of fun having them around, participating in the hubbub. The kids got to show off our garden:




… and Grandma and Grandpa got to play rugby with Auric in the front yard, including witnessing him standing at attention for the National Anthem. (You might not understand what he’s doing here until you look at the picture below and see Auric’s hero, Richie McCaw, the captain of the All Blacks, and where he stands in the line of players.)


Source: Phil Walter/Getty Images AsiaPac



Then it was off for a weekend in Taupo (“TAW-po”). Just before we reached Taupo, we stopped at this little lookout of the Waipunga Falls off Highway 5.



Once we dropped our stuff off at the little bach we rented for the weekend in the nearby town of Turangi, famous for its trout fishing…


…we drove the 3o minutes back into Taupo for dinner and a walk around the lake.



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The next day, Sean and his folks would tackle one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a view of the mountains that they would climb the next day.


The next morning, Sean and his folks were gone by the time we woke up. The kids and I had a day to fill and started it with treats of crepes and hot chocolate down by the marina where the Mighty Waikato river empties into Lake Taupo. We admired the boats docked there before heading off to the humble and yet plentiful grounds of Lilliput Farm and Petting Zoo, a little drive out of town. The grounds are surprisingly big, and around each bend is another climbing structure or play equipment, up-cycled from some unlikely sources.

Here we met our first friends, the pigs. This little piglet very quickly wriggled out of its pen and proceeded to follow us around, nibbling up the food pellets that Thora and Auric inevitably dropped. And falling in line with Auric’s previous response (his terror at the friendly Pukeko that we met at Paradise Valley Springs with his Aunt Natalie last year), he was very troubled by and mildly scared of this persistent piglet.

123 124Finally we walked up a gentle rise that was apparently too steep for his little legs and he turned back. What a relief for Auric!

Up high in the mountains, this is what Sean, Brian, and Beverly were doing:

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Meanwhile, back at the farm:

128 130 133 132There were all kinds of farm animals and the grounds just went on and on.

131It was midday and the weather was warm and sunny so after we’d seen all there was to see at Lilliput, we stopped into the AC Baths, a large public aquatic center. Sadly they were in the middle of a re-model so we only had access to the outdoor lap pool. But we had a great time regardless. The lifeguards, wanting to make it fun for the kids who were there, pulled out an inflatable slip n slide and covered it in soap, which made it extra slippery and hilarious. Auric stayed pretty close to me, but Thora joined the big kids as they took turns running from the pool deck, onto the long, inflated runway, and then off into the pool.

Following that, it was time to head home and meet up with Sean and his folks. They were back at the bach when we got there, tired but happy to have accomplished such a grueling and yet rewarding hike. Sean and his folks had some apple slices left over from their hike, so we fed some friendly horses trimming the grass in a nearby paddock.


Then it was off to an excellent dinner at the Tongariro Lodge.



The next morning, I had a short run around Turangi, and captured this quaint shot of a couple fly-fishing.


During our last day in the Taupo region, we saw some more of the Mighty Waikato River. The first stop was Huka Falls:




Then we raced to the Aratiatia Dam and made it there just in time to see the midday dam-raising and to see the drama of the rushing water as it filled the river.




Our last stop was the Huka Honey Hive, where we tried all sorts of honey products like lotions, wine, mead, and around a dozen different varieties of honey.

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We had another day back in Gizzy before Brian and Beverly headed back to the States. We spent a couple hours walking around the Eastwood Hill Arboretum.

147We had a great time with them and we hope it’s not long before they find themselves back on New Zealand soil!



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