New Zealand Adventure

December and January 2019-2020


Kiwifruit and Mount Doom: Friday, December 27th

The bed-and-breakfast couple put on a lovely breakfast spread--jams and homemade bread, yogurt, muesli, wheatabix, and some golden kiwifruit. These were very sweet and not hairy at all, with a gorgeous golden flesh; it turned out that their daughter-in-law works in some capacity where she can be said to be "in charge of kiwi varieties" for all of NZ--whatever that means. To be honest, we hadn't known there was more than one variety! Samantha played outside for a long time while we all talked and let Marcus sleep a bit late; she made friends with the American six-year-old staying at the guest house part of the b&b down the hill (we were in a wing of the main house), and they wandered around the grounds together and talked to and about the sheep.

Eventually we got Marcus up and he ate and we headed out, driving two hours southeast to Tongawhiro National Park (we stopped for gas and a $1 fluffy along the way, which might be one of Robert's favorite things about the country--a great deal on steamed milk at coffee stands).

We went into the visitors' center there and enjoyed all the displays about volcanos and rocks and then drove to the Top of the Bruce (Whakapapa) parking lot, where we took the Sky Whaka gondola to the top to walk around on the snow and eat lunch (meat pies and a ham and cheese toastie in the ski cafeteria, eaten out on the deck in the bright sun), and then came down and walked out on the rocks at Meads Wall.

This is the spot where they filmed the scenes at the beginning of The Two Towers when Frodo and Sam are wandering around the rocks, lost, and are found by Gollum. We had seen that recently, and the kids knew of the connection and were excited. Samantha decided she would act out Gollum. Helen was into the idea: "You p'etend you're Gollum and I'll be Sam and F'odo!" Helen agreed. Samantha was apparently such a compelling Gollum, though, crawling around silently on her hands and knees on the rocks and just looking at Frodo/Sam/Helen, that Helen got terrified and screamed. I was just terrified one of the girls would fall off a rock and crack open a head but everyone ended up fine. 



A Sojourn with Sally (Kiwimum): Friday, December 27th and Saturday, December 28th

We drove two more hours south to Whanganui, a small city near the west coast of the North Island. The drive was a little twisty and turny, and Helen looked like she might be carsick, but unlike Samantha yesterday (who did succomb to carsickness--though I was able to whisk her out of the car itself in time), Helen staved it off with a lollipop. Or perhaps, she has realized that if she looks pale and tells me she thinks she's going to be sick, I just give her a lollipop. Either way, really. In addition to trying to keep all the children's bodily fluids where they belong, this leg of the drive--like all our drives, really, on this trip--was also filled with Marcus calling out new-to-us car names. "Alphard, Wish, Noah, Supra, Voxy, Prado! Those are all Toyotas!" he announced. No one really responded. "Plus there are Nissan pick-up trucks here, Mommy. Nissan pick-up trucks!" "Hm, that's interesting, honey," I may have responded. I was probably too excited to give him a better reaction, though, because Whanganui is where my friend Sally lives, and after ten years of "knowing" her online in a babywearing forum, of talking with her daily and sharing birth stories (I had a baby in a car, she had one on the kitchen floor) and husband stories and kid stories and everything stories, I was finally going to get to meet her in person.

It was a beautiful sunny day with some wind, and when we pulled into Sally's block, Marcus called out "I see some blonde children" and indeed, they were two of Sally and Tim's children. Their yard is fantastic--there are bunnies, doves/pigeons, budgies, and a Japanese quail, plus three cats wandering around, and plum trees that children climbed and picked plums from, and a big barrel swing that someone was always able to push a younger kid in, and a large trampoline out in front of what Sally calls their "Mary Poppins" shed.

Sally’s  kids are just amazing! Lael crawled around under a blanket with Helen for ages, pretending I don't know what, and Joash and Marcus then held hands and jumped on the trampoline with Helen while alternately singing New Zealand and American versions of "Ring Around the Rosie." Samantha adored the collection of wood weapons and tucked a sword into her belt and slung a bow over her back and wandered around outside like that, mostly with Hosea. Robert played a game with Beth and Ahlai and Elkanah, I saw Nijah’s Christmas present dinosaur lights, and Sally and I exchanged bags of lollies and biscuits that we each thought the other might like. It was like walking into an alternate universe and never wanting to leave.

Sally had made "tea" (dinner)--sliced roasted ham, potato salad, coleslaw, and then Tip Top ice creams—kiwi pavlova, gumdrop, and hokey pokey flavors--plus actualpavlova with kiwifruit! (They were the golden variety here, too. Now we were old pros, though, and knew to expect them.) We stayed until after 9:00 (Helen out on the trampoline almost that late, even as it got chilly and her lips turned blue, not wanting to come in) and then drove to a campground just five minutes away to stay in a cabin just for the night.

The next morning we went to the River Traders' Market, eating onigiri and a bacon butty and fresh-squeezed juice and a really delicious mussel burger, and checking out the public library van that was stopped there, but the real highlight was when Sally and Tim arrived with the kids (there are nine, ranging from Ahlai who's nearly grown up down to Atarah, who was almost one). We swapped a child from our car to their van, and drove to Kowhai ("wh" is pronounced /f/ in Maori) Park nearby.

The park would have been a pretty great park even if our kids didn't have a whole bunch of extra playmates around--with friends, it was top-notch. We had been practicing our New Zealand vocabulary ("bench" is the kitchen counter; "counters" are only in shops, etc.) all along, but thanks to Sally's family, we learned here that ziplines in playgrounds are called flying foxes (this flying fox was long and smooth, and Marcus and Samantha loved it).

This shot is all of our combined kids except Nijah, who was sitting in the shade with Tim at the moment.

When people got hungry and we needed to think about lunch, I mentioned that I hadn't been kidding about wanting to have a chip sandwich. Sally and Tim thought that was a hoot, so we called in an order to "the orange chip shop": 8 scoops of chips, 6 orders of fish, and an order of fried pineapple rings (for Tim; Sally thinks they're gross. Apparently they're a thing, though).

Back at Sally’s house, kids buttered bread like an assembly line to make hot chip sandwiches--bread, butter, chips, and tomato sauce (not ketchup, and a long "A" in "tomato"), then a top slice of bread. Marcus and Joash were not appreciating my attempt to grab a picture before all the chip sandwiches got consumed! (They were heavenly.)

For "dessert" Sally humored me by making a couple cold chip sandwiches: bread, butter, Marmite, and potato chips. I prefer the hot chip sandwiches, but I couldn't think of anything better than trying both in one lunch. I helped myself to Sally's youngest in a sling for a moment, too, and Helen and Salem had a long conversation and played a game together while Robert and Marcus played a game with Beth, Lael, Joash, Kanah, and Hosea, and Samantha took advantage of a quiet moment to jump on the trampoline by herself.

The beaches by Sally, like all the west coast beaches, have black sand, and I don't think Marcus and Samantha had seen that, so I'd mentioned that we'd be happy to swing by the beach if everyone else wanted to. Of course, that was the cue for a flurry of activity as children all started changing into their "togs" (bathing suits), and even though it was really windy, we headed over.

Apparently there had been a king tide last night and there was still super rough surf, with no swimming allowed; the very attentive life guards drove their vehicle over and parked right by the water though, watching as our kids played in the surf anyway. Robert and Tim built a driftwood shelter for the younger ones, and when everyone's lips had turned thoroughly blue, we retreated to the playground on the other side of the dunes.

There it was sunny and hot, and at one point Tim said he'd run over to the dairy to pick up some ice blocks. "Do you need help carrying them?" Robert asked. Tim looked at him oddly and said no, he thought he'd be fine. When he returned from the convenience store just across the street with a bag of popsicles, Robert figured out we'd had another communication breakdown.

The kids played all afternoon, and probably could have gone on much longer, but around 5:30 we finally started trying to say goodbye in earnest, and we all realized the visit had to be over. Lael and Joash said they want to come to Boston someday, and Marcus tried to corner Joash and ask when, exactly. Any of them are welcome, anytime, of course! We used the bathrooms at the playground and then piled into the car, all feeling a bit deflated after saying goodbye.

Wellington was two and a half hours south from Sally's house. We checked into our hotel and walked around the corner to Babylon Kebob for some excellent Iraqi food (veggie fritter sandwich, chicken rice snack plate, lamb chip sandwich) and Kaffee Eis, around the corner from that, for plum-blackcurrant gelato before tucking everyone up in bed.




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Created: 1/6/2020. Last Modified: 1/6/2020.