Went for a tour round the local schools. It was easy for Lachlan as we are about 150 metres from the local high school, Hillcrest High. It seems OK and has a reasonable reputation. The folks living next door to us actually moved here so that there kids could go to it.
For Aonghas, there were two options. Silverdale primary was at the end of the road, about 5 minutes walk away. We went there first and met the deputy head in charge of his year range. Aonghas has just come out of a UK Year 3 class and we were a bit non-plussed when it took her several minutes of leafing through a booklet to work out what class he would be in. She wanted him to start year 3 again, in a mixed class with year 2’s. Seemed a bit strange to us but we carried on and let her show us round. The school seemed alright-ish but perhaps a bit dated. The telling thing for us, though, was the fact that she never talked to Aonghas the whole time that we were there. She never once said anything to him, she never asked us his name and she just said “He will do this” and “He will do that” all the time.
In the afternoon, we walked over the park at the back of the house to Hillcrest Normal School. It’s a bit further away but we timed it as a 12 minute walk. As soon as we walked in, the receptionist asked Aonghas what his name was and when his birthday was. “You’ll go into year 4 then” was her comment, as she continued to talk to him while we arranged to see the deputy head. We walked away with little decision to make!
One thing that we did discover is that state education in NZ is, on the face of it, more expensive that the UK. We have to buy all exercise books as well as pens, pencils, glue sticks, scissors etc, etc, from a fixed list, plus contributions for photocopying, computing, the school in general and various other bits and pieces. Fixed uniform for Lachlan too and that’s only available through the school. Makes a request from QES for a £10 or £20 contribution pale into insignificance.
Got the keys from our landlords for the house and used our last day with their car to move most of our luggage down there. Spending last night in Motel tonight.
Public holiday here and we drove to the east coast – about 90 minutes. Beautiful white sands and nice rolling surf that is good to swim in without any great dangers. Certainly picked up some sun over the last 3 days – keep lathering on the factor 30.
Drove down to Waitomo which is the main caving area in the North Island. Didn’t do any caving but had a walk through some forest and into a karst gorge. Quite impressive walkway has been built to give views.
Went shopping for beds for the boys in the morning. In the afternoon we drove south of Hamilton and had a walk in some remnant native forest. Then off to Bridal Veil Falls, a spectacular 55m single drop waterfall.
Well it is time to prise the boys out of the pool and head down town. Hamilton is the fifth largest town in NZ – quite provincial and trying to lose it’s reputation as a bit of a “hicksville”. As you go in there is a statue of a typical farming family which some of the locals want removing as they see it as a symbol of the agricultural history of the place. What we have seen so far seems really nice, pleasant, wide avenues, not too much traffic, rolling green countryside around, a few mountains to the North (I think), a beautiful river – the Waikato which is the longest in NZ – lots of parks and gardens. However we have to go to the Inland Revenue office to get our IRD numbers which allow us to work, the boys need them as well so a rather mundane but essential task. Also getting a bank account and then we need to get some food for tea so off to Pac’n’Save on the way back for essentials (a few bottles…).
Phone Liz and tell her we are a bit stuck on which of the two houses to choose. She phones the vendors and it turns out one has already gone so that makes our mind up for us. Arrange to meet the owners of the other one that evening and sign our rental agreement so now have somewhere to live – probably the best way round as although it is a bit smaller than the one that had gone, it is in a much better position. It is 2 minutes walk from Lachlan’s school and 10 from Aonghas’s. It has just been done up with new carpets, paint etc. Although it is a little smaller than some we saw, it has a garden with orange and grapefruit trees, a small swimming pool and a gate through to a park with rugby pitch and playground. It is in a green, leafy suburb, local shops at each end of the road with a library, doctor’s surgery take-aways etc. All we need is within walking distance until we get round to buying a car. We move in on Tuesday as soon as the various relatives who are lending us bedding, crockery and general household bits and pieces to tide us over until our stuff arrives can bring it to us. Unfortunately it is a holiday weekend here – a bit like August Bank Holiday – different regions of NZ have “anniversary” holidays and this is Auckland and Waikato’s.
Don’t know how long we will be in this house as the owners are looking to sell it but we have at least 3 months. However it gives us an address to get the boys into schools so that is the next job. They are all closed until Tuesday so visiting starts then.
So we now have a bit of time to explore – the owners of the house we have rented are going to lend us a car for the weekend (how many landlords do that??) so that means we can go a bit further afield. The bus system here is pretty rubbish and the train network is just about non-existent, though at least it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise!
Spent today being driven around potential rental houses by Liz from Crown Relocations. The University has paid for her to help us find somewhere to live and she is fantastic. By the time we finish we have narrowed the field down to four. Spend the evening reassessing and get it down to 2.
Hong Kong was great but now we were taking the final step to NZ. We landed slightly late in Auckland on Tuesday due to a delay to the flight from Heathrow – apparently they were still clearing up the debris of the BA flight from China that had missed the runway. We arrived just in time to catch the tail end of a cyclone so it was chucking it down with rain and blowing a hoolie! Very warm though!
[A couple of days of hot, muggy weather and now it is 28 degrees and beautiful sunshine, dare I complain about it being too hot to bear? (I’ve had to come inside to write this, partly because I can’t see the screen for the sun but also because I can’t sit in the sun as it is too hot!) The University of Waikato have put us up in a Motel for a week which is quite pleasant – not up to the standard of the Hong Kong hotel but there is a small outdoor pool which the boys are loving, so that keeps them happy.]
Did some shopping but didn’t buy the suit! Then it was time to collect our luggage and head to the airport. Fortunately nothing was said about our overweight cases and we managed to look nonchalant with our hand luggage that was pulling our shoulders off!
Took taxis, buses, trains and then a 5.4km cable car ride up to see the “Big Buddha” – very touristy but, hey, why not? This is supposedly the largest seated Buddha in the world and yes, it is big! We sampled the “delights” of the Buddhist vegetarian food in the Monastery. As the Chinese New Year is soon upon us, the monastery was busy with people giving thanks for the year past. Huge incense burners smoked everywhere – you could buy incense ‘sticks’ 6 inches across and 3 or 4 foot long!
Had a demonstration of the proper way to make Chinese tea. Think it explains why I was never too impressed in the past when I had bought some and tried to make it pretty much in the western fashion.
Went in the funicular up Mount Victoria. Pretty hazy unfortunately but still the views were impressive – especially the building that was still as tall as we were most of the way up the hill.
Came back and toured round Kowloon. Every time we went out Nigel was harangued by Chinese tailors offering to make him a suit – not sure what that says about his style – but it became a bit of a joke, especially to Lachlan who found it highly amusing!
Besides the stunning skyline, there is so much jammed in between the buildings roads, tramways, elevated roads, elevated walkways, huge escalators. It’s actually possible to get about on the island. without hitting the roads at all. Saw all the sights in Hong Kong, the boys loved it as we travelled by Star ferry across the harbour and then rode the tram from one end of the line to the other. Wandered about shops on the island and jostled our way through the melee of people in the narrow streets – the noise of street vendors, car horns, mobile phones ringing, the smells of street corner food stalls, the bright colours of the neon signs and shop displays as well as all the Chinese New Year decorations everywhere was quite overwhelming but also exciting.
Well we have got here!
After all the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks a few days of luxury in Hong Kong are really welcome.
What an amazing place! We weren’t quite sure about going to a big city but the skyline is terrific and we have a great view from our 20th floor room in the Harbour Plaza Metropolis Hotel. Got bamboozled into a “package” when we arrived which meant that we had access to the “Club Lounge” where we had an even better view of the harbour, buffet breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and free internet access plus a pile of other extras that we didn’t really use! It was lovely to be pampered for a short time!
Some folks stayed over at our empty house and we head off to Inglesport for a last caver’s breakfast. Managed to pass on a usable bike and kids scooter at the same time! Saying goodbye isn’t easy – moving away has its downsides too 😦
Have arranged a going away party at Ingleton Community Centre for Saturday evening. Not been very efficient at getting invites out. Did a joint mail with our Christmas cards but harder to get in touch with folks whose addresses we don’t have. The old caving grapevine doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to so apologies if you didn’t hear about it in time. Lots of you did make it though and it was lovely to see so many folk and we hope you all had a great time too and had a safe journey home. We’re really sorry if we didn’t get the chance to talk very much to you all. We have sat and played back the evening in our heads and think that one or the other of us spoke to everyone, so we hope we didn’t miss anyone. Thank you also for all the kind gifts both for us and the children.
Have uploaded some pictures from the evening to http://www.flickr.com/photos/easegill/sets/72157603851691832/show
If anyone has other photos from the night please send to firstname.lastname@example.org or add links here in the comments.
We do hope that it’s not the last time that we see all our friends. I’m sure that at some point we’ll come back for a holiday but NZ is a really cool place for a holiday and we’d love to put any of you up if you visit. The only problem you’ll have is not having enough time to see it all!
House empty, work finished – seems like a good place to start writing this. First of all thank you to everyone for all your kind words, messages, help and meals over the last few weeks We’re staying in a caravan at Silverdale for our last week in the UK. The weather has been pretty wet but there have been some excellent winter sunsets over Morecambe Bay.
Today I’ve been spending some quality with my brother while we drive up and down to the tip all day getting rid of the piles of junk and rubbish that even we’re too embarrassed to take with us! Also need to get ready for tonight’s party – and collect some balloons!
Writing the first part of this retrospectively so please excuse any stupid changes of tense and apparent precognition of events yet to happen!