Have We Had Breakfast Yet?

So we caught the plane in San Francisco on Sunday evening and arrived here in Auckland at six o'clock in the morning on Tuesday. The flight was just twelve hours and apart from crossing the date line nothing interesting happened. The children slept for most of the journey and arrived in reasonable shape.

One of our correspondents, now a resident of NZ, suggested it would be easier to smuggle an assault rifle into the country than an apple. And judging by our experience today, that seems about right. These guys are big on biosecurity and don't want their agricultural industry to suffer from external contamination.

Once we were through the biosecurity cordon we caught a taxi into town. I've only just got used to traffic driving on the right and then we arrive here where they ride goofy like us.

This time I remembered the name of our hotel (well I had it printed out at least). It turns out that our hotel is fabulous; despite booking it over the Internet on the strength of its low price, it's superb. We've even our own washing machine. Oh it's that type of twin tub I replied, trying to hide my disappointment.

As luck would have it we were able to check in as soon as we arrived at seven am. So after a eating the custard creams and having a cup of tea we were back out again ready for our second breakfast of the day on Vulcan Street. We then wandered round the quayside and looked at the boats. By this stage both children were in a fairly deranged state but we were keen to keep them awake until their lunchtime nap. It was like a junior version of Guantanamo Bay. I can write that now I'm off US soil.

Anyway we bought some lunch and ate it back at the hotel and then let the under fours sleep. The under forties had to busy themselves with laundry chores in order to stay awake.

In the afternoon we all strolled up to Albert Park to try and tire the children out some more. By this stage Lottie was totally discombobulated, asking why we were going out without breakfast. And this in spite of having eaten two breakfasts earlier in the day.

The park trip was largely a tear-fest. Lots of falling over and splinters. In an attempt to regain control we took them back to the hotel via a wine shop. Wine in NZ is incredibly expensive, even the moonshine the produce themselves.

Once back at the hotel we trooped down to the swimming pool. Lottie put in some sterling work and swam four lengths with armband assistance. In contrast Ben sat looking pensive on the poolside and then pooped in his swim nappies. Turns out that this is a more effective way of getting out of swimming lessons than having a note from your mum.

Bec took him back to the room whilst Lottie and I did more swimming. Once we'd had enough we put towels round our waists and climbed back in the lifts to return to the eighth floor. However we hadn't got the room key that was also needed to activate the lift control panel.

To cut a long story short, we were scooted up to the twenty forth floor in our dripping skimpies where someone else had called the lift. We then had to persuade them to drop us back off at our floor on the way down. We were lucky; we could have been stuck in the lift all afternoon.

And we'd have soon run out of things to eye-spy.

On a rather more tragic note we received chilling email from Canmore this evening. Yesterday the captured grizzly had returned to the area and had killed a woman on the same trail we'd been using to walk and run. The woman, a friend of Andy and Saira's, had been out running with two friends and had climbed a tree in an attempt to evade capture. Her companions escaped to raise the alarm. When Rangers returned to the scene the woman's body was discovered and the bear was shot. A desperate turn of events leaving the community of Canmore deeply shocked.

June 07, 2005.

Early Start

Rather unsurprisingly we had an early start today. The junior ranks blew the bugle at zero five hundred hours. In reality this was better than we had expected; we were anticipating a re-run of the New York debacle.

We were able to take advantage of the fact that our hotel room, sorry suite, has a kitchen and so we were breakfasted and out by eight o'clock.

First stop was a ferry to Devonport, an island just twelve minutes ride away. There we climbed up a relic volcano to gain a great view of Auckland. Despite the volcano having been dormant for probably hundreds of thousands of years Lottie was quite captivated by the experience, and was expecting an eruption whilst we were on top.

The afternoon saw us jump on a bus to Auckland museum. The bus ride was challenging, with Ben so keen to stay on the bus that he wailed like a banshee every time it stopped to pick other passengers up as he thought that meant he was getting off too.

When we actually did get off there was one of those cries that is only audible to dogs and the NSPCC. He was heartbroken. Still, nothing fours hours wandering round a boring museum won't fix we told ourselves.

Luckily the museum was great and very child friendly. Once Ben had stopped crying we all had a pretty good time.

The evening's meal was courtesy of Ponsonby's Pies. This was swiftly followed by the worlds quickest bath time bedtime so that we could watch the Lions play Taranaki at footy as they call it over here.

Pies, rugby, crying. Like a regular day at home really.

June 08, 2005.

Piha Beach

We're in a fairly remote setting right now and getting a GPRS signal proved impossible last night. So I've climbed to the top of a tree and am writing this monkey style. If this entry stops abruptly I'd encourage you to send help.

We started the day by checking out of our well-appointed hotel room. It really had been the perfect place to stay, not least because of the washing machine. In our two nights there we'd done six loads. I had to keep asking the front desk for more powder. I think they thought we were running a service wash operation.

We picked up a hire car downtown and shoehorned ourselves and our luggage into it. As ever, cat swinging was out of the question.

Driving in New Zealand is made slightly easier due to the fact they drive on the left. However they compensate for this by not putting up any road signs. Not to where we were going anyway. Lottie was being as helpful as its possible to be when you're navigating in a foreign country by saying 'I think we've been here before'. She was, of course, correct as we spent most of the morning driving round in circles.

Directions from a petrol station eventually helped us on our way and we were soon on the right road for Piha. The landscape very quickly changes from suburban to subtropical rainforest. We stopped at a ranger station with a great view over the rainforest basin. An incredible sight. Even Ben stopped eating stones for a moment and took in the view.

If you know where you're headed Piha isn't far from Auckland. It's on the west coast only about an hour from the city. Nevertheless it's a world apart, and is quite a special place. The place were booked into is called Piha Cottage and is a self-contained unit at the end of the owner's garden. It's basic but very charming. The approach to the cottage is up a steep and narrow track, the only way to successfully get up there is to stick the car in first gear and approach the incline at about six thousand revs. My first attempt, at a moderate four thousand revs ended up with us slithering backwards into the jaws of the rainforest. For the second time of the day, Ben looked up to see what was going on around him.

When we eventually arrived at the cottage the owners were dreadfully apologetic, telling us that the hot water was off and that she had arranged alternative accommodation for us. However there was no way I was driving back down that hill again so we decided to stay put. Still, cold showers are at the very core of Victorian parenting.

In the afternoon we walked down to Piha beach. The waves were enormous; I'd estimate them to be approaching four metres. There were surfers out there and they seemed so close to the rocks that I can only imagine they'd all had lobotomies. It made Californian surf look like Blackpool beach.

The sand on Piha beach is black. Very odd. Something to do with iron in the sand from the volcanic activity. Anyway, the bottom line is kids love it because it makes them look like they've been playing down a coal mine. Not to worry kids, nothing a nice long shower won't fix.

We stayed at the beach until it was almost dark. Being in the depths of winter over here it's dark by half five. The change from the light nights of California has been hard to deal with, and the children really aren't sure what's going on with the seasons.

On the way back from the beach we tried to buy some grog. Wine, beer, methylated spirit would have done. But it seems that like many places we've been to the liquor license is very strict. And so our temperance tour of the world continues.

So we had nothing to drink, no hot water and no Internet connectivity. I'm not sure which was worse.

More updates, possibly by carrier pigeon, later.

June 09, 2005.

Karekare Beach

We started the day much later than usual. Our normally energised children only fell out of bed at the very respectable time of seven o'clock this morning. The prize for this uncharacteristically good behaviour was freshly prepared waffles. We might not have wireless Internet down here, but a waffle iron is some consolation.

After breakfast we packed up the car and drove to Karekare beach just over the hill. According to our guidebook this is the beach they used in the film 'The Piano'. Interestingly, Bec thinks this is the best film ever. Conversely I thought it was rubbish. It's about a woman who falls in love with a piano she finds on a beach or something. Anyway there are no car chases or explosions or anything like that. So if you're a bloke I'd recommend avoiding it at all costs.

The beach was deserted and very atmospheric. It was almost spooky having an entire beach to ourselves. The children busied themselves with shell collecting and sand swallowing respectively. Despite the later than usual start it wasn't long before Ben laid face down in the sand and announced that he was tired. His rock and roll lifestyle seemed to have caught up with him and he was ready for a nap.

We ate a picnic lunch and then drove back to the cottage in order that the children could have a reasonable snooze. And so they did. Both Lottie and Ben slept for three hours leaving us to drink tea and marvel at how quiet it had become.

When they finally did wake up it was nearly dark which didn't really leave enough time for all of the planned afternoon activities. We had hoped to take the nearby trail through the forest to a waterfall and be back in time to buy provisions at the local store. However we only had enough daylight to complete one of these activities and the waterfall won.

Whilst the tramp up to the falls was superb I do now wish that I'd looked out some bush tucker whilst I'd been up there. Right now I'd happily chew on a tree weta or a couple of stick insects.

Because we'd missed the Piha general store dinner was a 'Ready Steady Cook' affair. We ate chicken noodles, pasta and waffles. Pretty much only one of the major food groups. It was a bit like being a student again, alas without the obligatory tins of out of date lager.

We finished the day by looking out at the stars this evening. The light pollution is much reduced here compared to home and itís really easy to make out the Milky Way. There are just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stars. Incredible.

Tomorrow we fly down to South Island to catch up with family Blomley where we are looking forward to abusing their hospitality and our livers.

June 10, 2005.