A Day Out on the Train

We are travelling back to Hamilton from Wellington on the Overlander train, a journey of about 580km which takes 9 and a half hours at an average speed of, shall we say, slow!  It gives us the opportunity to relax, spend quality time together as a family and admire the scenery (much of which is not visible from the road – or so the spiel from the train crew goes).  I jest; it is indeed a very pleasant journey and the scenery is stunning.

As we travel along the coast out of Wellington we have but a short time to admire the morning light on the harbour and the tall buildings reflecting the sun like huge mirrors before we plunge into the tunnel that takes us through the mountain to the other side. We emerge into misty mountains to our east but clear blue sky to the west. This is the pattern for the next few kilometres; we go through Levin and the sun is shining through the heavy clouds over the mountains to the east. Levin (rhymes with “begin”) was founded in 1906 and named after William Hort Levin, a director of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company. The town’s Maori name is Taitoko but I have still to work out what it means – tai is something to do with tides or ocean I think.

Heading northwards we see cows and rolling plains to the west and still the misty mountains to the east.

We are just approaching Palmerston North which according to the train crew “allows visitors to participate in a large variety of adventurous activities”. There is a five minute stop here to take on passengers and let smokers off for a fag break!

Fielding – built along the same plan as Manchester, “so those of you that may hail from there will easily be able to find your way around” – but I bet that if you come from Fielding you would not be able to find your way around Manchester!  Onwards through the flat lands to Marton – beer brewing land –  and we start the climb up country to the mountains.  New Zealand is indeed a green and lush land, and as we trundle through it the sheep and the cows munch away contentedly and Aonghas chews on a meat pie, most of which he is wearing down his front as he is concentrating more on watching the DVD of Return of the King than looking at where his food is going!  Every now and then there is a small graveyard seemingly in the middle of nowhere but I presume they are Maori burial places. It is not easy to type and I will have to make extensive use of the spelling and grammar check, as the train rocks and rolls and makes me miss the keys.  This is certainly not a sleek Intercity 125, and even further removed from the smooth and aerodynamic movement of the TGV.  It takes me back to childhood train journeys, and it is sort of comforting to feel the rails beneath the wheels and all the bumps and trickety trick, trickety trick as the train bowls along.  The carriage has filled up as we have travelled north and it is always fascinating to observe our fellow passengers. We are sitting by the door so are frequently stared and glared at by people as they steady themselves to open the door – good old-fashioned handles that have to be turned, not pressure pad technology that magically opens the door as you approach.  Now there is the confident youth, then there is the mother and young child, the elderly, but determined lady and the portly middle aged man (not Nigel!). They all negotiate the awkward journey that takes them from one end of the carriage to the other.  Thrown from one side of the aisle to the other, grasping the head rests for balance and all but falling into a stranger’s lap, they achieve their goal of the door or the safety of their seats.

Just passed through the small town of Hunterville founded in 1884 by George Hunter who walked from Wellington .  It is famous for its Huntaway dogs which are a unique Herding dog which uses its bark to herd sheep.  There is a festival each year which starts with a dog barking competition and features The Shepherds Shemozzle – a race with man and dog. Shepherds travel from all over New Zealand to compete up hill and down dale and through the town obstacle course – fascinating the things you find out! The landscape is now very green and lumpy like upturned egg boxes. To the East the valleys are flat and the cliffs are getting more sheer, and to the east the many hillocks are more rounded.  The lush green fields are dotted with the white of the sheep and the tussocky grass.

This is the Rangitikei region – farming country with lovely native bush.  The Papa cliffs are spectacular, steep sided, impressive gorges and a sparkling white; the water is clear and looks refreshingly cool below as the river meanders through the gorge.  We cross it several times – there are 10 viaducts over the next 50 km we are told and our stewards reel off the names, heights and lengths of them too quickly for me to make notes – I will have to look them up later!   See this link for more details on the viaducts – http://trains.wellington.net.nz/bridges.html

However one of them is the Makohine Viaduct ( 229m long and 73m high ) and we dashed down to the front of the train to get a better view from the open air platform behind the engine.  It is very noisy but good to have fresh air and the wind in your face – as long as you face the right way and don’t get the fumes from the diesel.  We have picked up a bit of speed now and are almost faster than the cars on SH1 which runs alongside the track.  The boys were devastated on the way down that the cars outpaced the train, but when we are in the car they always want to race the trains and revel in the fact that we drive faster than them.  The sheep scurry away in an arc across the fields as the train goes past, three brown cows sit in a row unmoved by the noise and the deer continue to graze and then blackness as we enter a tunnel. It feels strange to be hurtling along in complete darkness, a bit like the old ghost trains at the fairground – what ghoul will pop out round the corner, what gooey, sticky strands will sweep across my face…?  But no, we are back out into the light again all safe and no surprises.

We pass through Mangaweka which from the train seems like a tiny little place and as we whizz through it I spot a sign for the Mangaweka International airport (this has to be a joke, surely!)– there is an old plane parked next to the sign and close by there is the General Store and then a Gospel Hall.  According to good old Wikipedia “The town also hosts the controversial annual “Fakes & Forgeries Art Exhibition and Festival” in October and November”.

The odd colonial style house stands alone in a field, surrounded by the remnants of a once well-manicured garden, run down but still evocative of times past, the native bush reclaiming the space it used to occupy. On to Taihape which is a small town founded in 1894 and a centre for the timber industry.  The once busy sawmills are nearly all now closed but were the reason for the existence of the town when the native forest was cleared up until the 1940s. Famous now for its annual gumboot throwing competition and on the edge of the town there is a large corrugated gumboot to commemorate Taihape’s 100th anniversary.

Did you know that before the arrival of people on NZ 85% of country was forested?  In the 1200s Maori felled and cleared the land to make way for crops and to build houses and waka and so by the time the European settlers arrived in the mid 1800s only 55% of the land was forested. Maori lived mainly along the coastal areas on both Islands but some iwi moved to the geo thermal areas around Rotorua in the winter. In a very short space of time between the mid 1890s and early 1900s the European settlers cleared huge tracts of land for grazing and farming as well as felling the mighty Kauri trees to be exported, so that nowadays only 25% of the land retains its forest and much of the native trees have been lost.  There are huge campaigns and efforts now to regenerate the native bush and re-introduce endangered species of plants and birds.

We continue on over the viaducts; The North Rangitikei viaduct is (I think) 181 m long, 77 m high, then the Toetoe viaduct (59 m long 58 m high) with a pretty waterfall to the west.  We are travelling through rolling country with hills to the east and west and we are steadily rising with the help of “gradings” shaped like horseshoes which help the train climb the inclines – you can often see the track above us as we snake around.  Onto the plains of Waiouru which is where the NZ army has its training grounds.  It is the highest point on the journey at 814m above sea level and the furthest point from the sea on our journey.  It is also the home of the army museum and memorial –where you can find out about the national military heritage.

We continue across the plains and then come to Tangiwae.  This is the site of New Zealand’s worst rail disaster when on Christmas Eve night in 1953 a lahar swept down the valley and washed the train off the track.  The last two carriages were left teetering on the track which allowed many passengers to escape but 151 died.

We stop at Ohakune for half an hour for lunch, a coffee, a wander round to stretch the legs and a trip to a loo that doesn’t move out of the way just as you descend onto it!  The railway cafes at National Park Village and Ohakune must make a killing for half an hour each day as a train load of passengers disembarks for a break from the journey.  Ohakune is 2027ft above sea level, a big skiing area on the southern side of Ruapehu, and also a famous for its vegetable growing.  It is home to the Giant Carrot – we have noticed that NZ towns like to have some sort of quirky “thing” for which they can be recognised – giant carrots, giant corrugated kiwis, Golden Shears, giant apples and so on.  We have not been back to Ohakune since our campervan was broken into when we were on holiday here 5 years ago.  Although Lachlan came for a week’s skiing with the school ski team and is keen for us to return as a family – maybe we can get over the break-in now and put that episode behind us!

We approach the historic HapuaWhenua viaduct which is built on a big curve 414m long.  First opened in 1908, it was replaced by a new concrete viaduct in 1987.  Earlier this year renovations of the old viaduct were complete and “now it is an exciting and safe experience to walk along the deck, study the construction and design of the viaduct, marvel at the new concrete viaduct and enjoy the serenity of the bush and the antics of the native birds”.  In 1987 AJ Hackett ran NZ’s first Bungee Jump off the old Hapuawhena viaduct.  As we travel over the viaduct we can look into the gorge below onto the crowns of the bright green spring fronds of the Ponga ferns and the darker spikes of the Cabbage trees.  And now the rain starts – no views of snow-clad Ruapehu, Ngaruahoe or Tongariro today.  Travelling through the native bush towards National Park Village we will climb steadily and will soon negotiate the Raurimu Spiral.

The Last Spike – marks the completion of the NI main trunk line and the creation of the Auckland to Wellington link.  There is a sort of obelisk that marks the spot and a sign post – the Prime Minister of the day was presented with a silver spike which is now in the Te Papa museum in Wellington.

The Makatote Viaduct is the highest one on the journey and the 3rd highest in NZ. It is 79 metres tall and 262 metres long – on a good day you can see Taranaki to the West and Ruapehu to the East.  It spans a forested gorge and we can see a small river meandering through it.

Now we have come to a halt and are waiting at Makatote just south of National Park Village for the southbound train so that crew can swap over. Alongside the track there is toetoe, ox-eye daisies, pine trees, birch, flax, gorse and broom, totara, bracken … and lots more that I don’t know the names of.  I was here just a few weeks ago with the Year 10 girls from my school on Outdoor camp and we mountain biked through this forest in glorious sunshine.  Unfortunately today we do not have the views that we were treated to then.

We go through National Park Village and then onwards to the Raurimu Spiral.  It is an amazing feat of engineering and quite bewildering to travel round.  Basically the station at National Park on the south side was 714 feet above Raurimu Station on the north side although a straight line of only about 7 km separated them. The problem was to join up the two places with a workable grade.  This was done by means of the spiral and now the distance travelled between the stations is 11km. It is said that if the aeroplane had existed when reconnaissance surveys were made then the Raurimu spiral would never have been built. A guy called James Cowan described the spiral thus; “The line is run as an ascending spiral, a complete circle (which passes over itself at a higher level), and two tunnels. The fashion in which this mountain railway ties knots in itself is rather puzzling on first experience.”  Earlier on in the year we had stopped on the road at Raurimu where there is a lookout and a model of the spiral – looking at it there and trying to spot the track through the bush, it was quite difficult to work out how the spiral worked but now that we have travelled it all has become clear!

The boys are getting tired; we have been up since 5.30am and they are flagging and getting tetchy.  Nigel played a few games of Uno with them before the Ohakune break.  A hot chocolate and a poke of chips revived them temporarily but they are getting on each other’s nerves now. Aonghas had a go at trying to sleep but can’t get comfortable.  I know, I thought – let’s have a game of Tantrix – it distracted them for a while but Lachlan lost interest when it looked like he wasn’t going to win and Aonghas didn’t like Lachlan “advising” him where to put his tiles.  Oh dear!  Game over and the blue line won – nobody was playing blue so we all lost which makes life simpler, I suppose!

270 km into the journey and we are at Taumarunui which is 171m above sea level and has a population of 26,500.  Taumarunui means giant sun screen in Maori. Apparently as the great Maori chief Pehi Turoa lay dying on the plain he asked for a sun screen to be erected to shield him from the harsh rays of the sun. Originally a Maori settlement at the confluence of the Ongarue River with the Whanganui, where important canoe routes linked the interior of the island with the lower Whanganui River settlements, it then became an important trading post in the 19th century and is now the gateway to ski areas and water sports on the Whanganui river which is the 2nd longest in NZ.

My computer battery died on me so I decided to take a break and read my book – an hour later I awake and the seats around me are deserted!  My family have gone awol!  The sun has come out and although there are still plenty of grey clouds, there is a freshness in the air.  We are in Te Kuiti – Sheep Shearing Capital of the world – I just love the labels they give their towns here! There is a huge statue of a man shearing a sheep at the edge of town and an honours board of world champion sheep shearers.  We stop here regularly for a break when we drive down to Taumarunui.  Founded in 1897 it is a railway town in the heart of land which is very similar to the Yorkshire Dales.  The road from here down to Taumarunui is one of my favourite areas to drive through and certainly a place earmarked to explore more thoroughly in the future.  Otorohanga (meaning food for a long journey), known for dairy and sheep farming and marketed as NZs Kiwiana town,  has based its tourism on the quirky kiwi icons that decorate the shops and businesses down the main street – Buzzy Bee, Hokey Pokey Ice cream, kiwis, pukeko, jandals to name but a few.  Lachlan has returned – they have been out on the viewing platform behind the engine.  Aonghas and Nigel are back now too – they were on an anti-sickness mission! All good now though!  Only an hour now before we arrive in Hamilton and we are in familiar country.  The novelty of a train ride has sort of worn off now after 9 hours and we have seen the scenery outside plenty of times though it is still quite interesting to see things from a different perspective.  We come to Te Awamutu which means – the end of the channel – or the river’s end.  Te Awamutu was a major site during the New Zealand land wars of the 19th century, serving as a garrison town for the colonial settlers.

As we approach Hamilton we are told that it is the fourth largest in New Zealand and is famous for its beautiful gardens and Mystery Creek where you can get “hands on” with a cow!  (The mind boggles!)  Its Maori name is Kirikiriroa which means long stretch of gravel, but the settlement of Hamilton was founded on 24 August, 1864 and named after Captain John Charles Fane Hamilton, the popular Scottish commander of HMS Esk who was killed in the battle of Gate Pa, Tauranga.

We step off the train into the early evening sunshine, grab a taxi and head home.  We have had a great trip and I would really recommend the train journey.  The desire to stay awake and make the most of the stunning views is strong – but then I don’t like missing out on anything – but it is a long time to be on a train with two active boys!  Fortunately we had table seats so we had space to play games and watch videos but that would have been less easy if we had been in two sets of forward facing seats.  There is the option of going to the observation car at the back of the train and spending some time there, which we did on the way down to Wellington.  There is a huge panoramic window at the rear of the carriage from which you have the most amazing view.  However the boys preferred the tiny open air platform directly behind the engine – much more exciting and it provides an opportunity to get some fresh air!  A fascinating journey but it’s always good to be home!

(thanks to Wikipedia for clarifications on the info I heard and half-heard on the train!)

Advertisements

Christmas message

Lachlan, Aonghas and Nigel, Castle Point December 2009

Merry Christmas everyone!

I am making use of a long ride on a train to pen this seasonal missive.  We are travelling back to Hamilton from Wellington on the Overlander train, a journey of about 600km which takes 9 and a half hours at an average speed of, shall we say, slow!  It gives us the opportunity to relax, spend quality time together as a family and admire the scenery (much of which is not visible from the road – or so the spiel from the train crew goes).  I jest; it is indeed a very pleasant journey and the scenery is stunning.  On the way down I recorded some video footage of the journey, but you will be pleased to know that you won’t get to see it as I inadvertently deleted it from the camera card when transferring the data onto the computer!  But wait, I have another 7 hours to go on the return journey – more opportunities for videos, so maybe you will have the pleasure of sharing our adventure after all!  I ramble on and you have probably lost the will to live already so maybe I should get on with telling you some of our news.

Aonghas weetbix tryathlon feb 2009We have survived a second year in NZ and time certainly seems to have flown by. The boys, especially Lachlan, have developed a bit of a Kiwi accent.  A sort of defence mechanism, I think, to fit in with his peer group as he can slip back into “Yorkshire” when his Dad doesn’t understand him! Aonghas has adopted the antipodean inflection but his vowel sounds haven’t changed yet. (Scenery update: Misty mountains to our east but clear blue sky to the west just north of Wellington) Lachlan will start Year 11 in February and the spectre of NCEA Level 1 (equivalent to GCSE) looms at the end of that year – he will have to study a bit harder than he has this year, although to be fair he has developed more maturity and independence this year and has grown into a fine young man.  (I’m not biased – I’m his mother!)  Aonghas starts his last year at Primary school and is excited that he is in Mr Peart’s class – the only male teacher in the school and very hip and cool! (Bleached blond hair and trendy clothes!)

Both boys are involved in lots of sport.  Squash is a new pursuit this year – after a 25 year break from the game I have started playing again and Lachlan and Aonghas have both taken to it so we are trying to persuade Nigel to have a go too!

10th Birthday - Aonghas 2009

Duathlons, Triathlons and Fun Runs have been a big part of our sporting events this year too.  They are good fun and as competitive as you want them to be – of course we don’t worry about our times or where we come in the order – participation is the name of the game, isn’t it?  (However Lachlan has been consistently in the top half of his age group (U17) and I have usually managed a top ten placing in my age group,and he can now beat his mother by about 4 minutes over 10km!).  Aonghas has started swimming again this summer and is in the Development Squad at the local swimming club which he grudgingly enjoys. He doesn’t like the idea of going as he would prefer to play, but once he is there he admits that it is good!  (Scenery update: Just coming up to Levin and the sun is shining through the heavy clouds over the mountains to the east) Lachlan has continued to play rugby as his Winter sport, but has got more involved in volleyball during the Spring, and was lucky enough to go with them to the North Island Volleyball Champs in Rotorua.  Aonghas decided to play hockey this year instead of rugby and has really enjoyed himself scoring several goals and proving to be a useful member of the team.

We haven’t got out into the hills walking as much as we would have liked as life has been pretty hectic.  Nigel and I have both been busy at work – Nigel has been off to several conferences about the country and also spent a couple of weeks in Australia. I have been settling into a new job at Waikato Dio and trying to make myself indispensable – a worthwhile investment of time as I now have a permanent full-time position there!  It will be a challenging year ahead as although I have a relatively small teaching load, I continue in my role as Teacher IT Coach, and take on a new responsibility of organising the Outdoor Education Camps.  Three of the five year groups (about 140 girls in each year group) go on camp for a week at a time, so it is quite a logistical undertaking and a huge responsibility too.  Fortunately, I am taking over from someone who had everything well set up so I don’t aim to change anything major next year, just get my head around the job.  I managed to go on all three of the camps this year (Yr 9, Yr 10 and Yr 12) and got the opportunity to try out white water rafting, surfing (in the freezing cold ocean in winter!!), archery and also to do the awesome Tongariro Crossing which is

Tongariro Crossing, November 2009

an iconic kiwi walk – it’s a bit like doing the Three Peaks in terms of a must do walk. I have also got my caving count up to 4 NZ caves now – just need to get the rest of the family out to them now I know where they are.

Talking of the Tongariro Crossing – it traverses a volcanic area about 2 hours south of Hamilton where we have had our first forays into family skiing.

"Snowplough king understudy"

Whakapapa is a great ski resort on Mount Ruapehu – an active volcano which last erupted in the 1990s.  The boys, of course, got the hang of planks on feet pretty quickly, and Nigel’s body took a long hard look at the memory bank and realised that it had been there too, so we were away!  To our amazement (and his!), after just 3 days skiing, Lachlan was asked to be in the school ski

"snowplough king"

team and so he had the opportunity to spend a week away training with a crowd of very good skiers and participate in the North Island Secondary School Ski Champs.  He went as a travelling reserve so didn’t really get a chance to ski in any races but had a great time nonetheless, and it was an invaluable experience for him.

Now that summer is here (and Lachlan isn’t playing tennis every Sunday this summer) we aim to get away for some weekends and walk or mountain bike.  We have joined the Hamilton Mountain Bike Club and go every Wednesday for race night – fun for all the family, though we have yet to get Nige to join in

Pukete Spaghetti 2009

( he is using a broken chain as an excuse at the moment).  We have also had a couple of trips to the Redwoods in Rotorua where there are some awesome tracks.  Aonghas has really taken to it despite having to cycle on a rigid bike with dodgy gears!  (last heard shouting “Mum, my balls hurt – I don’t think I’ll be

Pukete Spaghetti, 2009 Aonghas

able to have children when I’m older!)  Maybe Santa will have heard?!  (Scenery update: Cows and rolling plains to the west, misty mountains to the east)

The main obstacle to getting out more regularly at weekends is the garden.  It has been great to have our own house this year with space to develop the garden and grow veggies.  Nigel spent a good few weekends in late

Veggie bed, October 2009

winter/early spring digging the ground and then building two raised beds which he has filled with a huge array of vegetables.  We have inherited an amazing watering system – a network of plastic pipes and sprinklers which is operated electronically so we can set it to water when we aren’t there.  Fantastic – no more standing around with a hosepipe!  The major drawback for Nigel is that I keep sticking a fork through the pipes when I get a little

Aonghas, October 2009

over-zealous with the weeding so he spends more time locating the leaks and fixing the holes than he really wants to!  We have already harvested and eaten broccoli, silverbeet, spring onions, carrots, green beans and courgette and are looking forward to cucumber, capsicums, artichokes (globe), beetroot, rock melon, fennel, tomatoes and more that I can’t remember!  Stuff grows so fast here but that also includes the weeds, so every silver lining has a cloud!  (Scenery Update: Just approaching “Palmerston North which allows visitors to participate in a large variety of adventurous activities”. A five minute stop here to take on passengers and let smokers off for a fag break!)

We are looking forward to a quiet Christmas together in our new home – last year we moved in and then headed straight down to Wellington for Christmas with Nigels’ family.  So this year we have spent a very pleasant week before Christmas in Wellington and Greytown with Aunty Chris and Aunty Moi catching up and being spoilt.  We will spend New Year with our friends Liz and Chas and their two boys Jamie and Josh at a house they have rented at Manukau Head and then we plan to head further north towards the Bay of Islands for a few days to explore.

We had a few visitors from the UK this year and it was great to see them – Ben and Samuel Davis turned up out of the blue and we spent a delightful evening with them, and then Aunty Margaret came to stay for two weeks which was just lovely.  So hopefully 2010 will see a few more of you!

Well, once again a Merry Christmas to you all.  Hope that 2010 brings all that you wish for and lots of pleasant surprises.  We look forward to seeing and hearing from you – e-mail, text, skype, phone or in person!

Round up of Aunty Margaret’s visit

Aonghas, Lachlan, Anne, Margaret, Nigel in Babaganush, Hamilton East

The boys said Goodbye to their Great Aunt Margaret on Tuesday evening and I took her up to Auckland to get the plane to start the last leg of her trip. She still couldn’t get her head around the fact that she was going on a 12 hour flight to Los Angeles which would arrive 3 hours after she set off from Auckland. I must admit I find it bizarre too – time zones are strange things.  Anyway she was looking forward to going to Vancouver and still trying to decide whether to get the flying boat over to Vancouver Island or go on the ferry. I think she was quite taken with the flying boat as we saw a couple at Lake Taupo and was attracted by the idea of flying in and landing on the water!

She had a good time in Wellington with Chris and Brian.  They spent a couple of hours in Wellington itself and then had a drive round the coast.  Wednesday they went over the Rimutuckers to see Moi and Terry and spent a pleasant afternoon looking round the  beautiful Awaiti gardens in Carterton, and then fish and chips in in the White Swan in Greytown before heading back over the mountains to Upper Hutt.  Thursday they had the compulsory visit to Te Papa which as usual was a source of fascination and wonder, before heading back to Hamilton.

We had a damp last few days but made it to Rotorua on Saturday.  Lachlan and Nigel went mountain biking in the Redwoods whilst Aunty Marg, Aonghas and I went to Whakarewarewa.  Aonghas was given the choice of mountain biking but when he heard that we were going to Whakarewarewa he said “Is that the place where we had the sweetcorn?”  (5 years ago when he was 5yrs old) and when we said that it was, he decided that he would forego the bike ride in favour of sweetcorn!

Dinner at Whakarewarewa

It all started off so promising, the sun was shining and despite a bit of a breeze it was quite pleasant. We dropped the boys off at the Redwoods and embarked on our tour. Margaret was fascinated by it and I have to say that I too learnt something new and am always intrigued by the the place.  This was the third time I have been round and I have had 3 different guides.  Since they all live or have lived in the village and have all been different ages,  they all bring their

kapahaka show Whakarewarewa

own stories, memories and anecdotes to the tour.  We saw the Kapahaka show and Aonghas went up to do the Haka! Had a nosey round the shops and were just about to get a coffee when we got an SOS from the boys – Nigel’s chain had broken at the top of the hill – so I left Gus and Aunty Margaret in the cafe and headed out to pick them up just as it started to pour with rain!  They were like a pair of drowned rats, looking very miserable sheltering behind the entrance sign to the car Park!

The rain continued so we headed to the Fat Dog (where else?) for a (big) bite to eat.

It was a rather damp weekend and plans for a trip out to the beach on Sunday came to nothing when we woke to torrential rain.  However, we spent a lovely day chatting and Aunty Margaret told me more tales about our family so that I could fill in some of the gaps in the family tree.  It was fascinating and I really want to get down to some real research and work on our genealogy.  Time, time, time – there is never enough of it!  She had a quiet day on Monday when I was at work, but it brightened up in the afternoon and we managed to get out to Hamilton Lake to see the Pukeko and the ducks.  We went out to Babaganush on Grey Street on Tuesday evening – well worth a visit – great food and reasonably priced too.  I managed to manage my day on Wednesday to squeeze in the trip to Auckland airport to see Margaret off which was great – luckily there were no traffic problems en route and so I got back in time for my afternoon  classes!  It really was lovely spending some time with Aunty Marg and having someone to talk to about Mum.  Quite a few weepy moments too but it was all good.  It will be difficult to remember everything she told me but I memories are always subjective and I am sure that some of hers were her personal interpretations of events which others may not see in the same way.  Isn’t that the nature of history?

November 2009

Nearly the end of another school year and I feel a little more settled with a permanent job in the bag!  Knowing where I am going to be and what I am going to be doing (well, sort of!) is quite a nice feeling.   Mind you, I still haven’t received an official offer of a job in writing, although Vicky, our Principal, did announce to the rest of the staff that I had been appointed so I guess that is something!  All being well I will be at Dio for the foreseeable future teaching French part-time, part-time IT Teacher coach and Outdoor Ed co-ordinator.  An interesting portfolio and quite challenging but, hey, life is all the richer for a few challenges!  But there are still a few weeks to go of this year and they promise to be pretty busy! All those end of term/end of year things that we teachers and parents have to do – summer galas, end of term musical concerts, carol services, leavers’ ball, year 10 Camp, exam marking and reports – life is pretty hectic!

Last weekend the boys and I took part in the Round the Bridges race  – 2km for Gus and 6km for Lachlan and I.  With very little preparation due to injury and sheer laziness, it was a tough race – I hit the wall pretty early and had a stinker of a stitch – Nigel has a very unflattering video of me struggling across the finish line!  However, I still managed to come 8th in my age group (35 – 49yrs) Lachlan did a better time, (well he has got youth on his side!) and Aonghas was disappointed that he didn’t beat his best friend ( he was 100th of a second behind him!) but pleased that he beat last year’s time.  All in all a good day out but I am determined to a bit of training for the next one…..!

We have all joined the Hamilton Mountain Bike Club and have been going out on a Wednesday evening for Club night races.  Aonghas and Lachlan took part in the Pukete Spaghetti a few weekends ago and, as well as getting caked in mud, had a great time.  Aonghas has been at the back of the pack on the last few Wednesdays and is struggling somewhat on a bike with no suspension and dodgy gears, but he has persevered and after a particularly bumpy bit last week he said, ” Mum, my balls hurt – I might never be able to have children!”  Will have to look at getting him a new bike but he is at that awkward stage of being just too big for a child’s bike and not quite big enough for a small adult frame!  Trade-me beckons!   At least while I feel he needs me to stay with him I don’t have to go fast! I don’t want to bail and make a fool of myself – well, actually I don’t want to hurt myself, I don’t really care what people think!  Just need to get Nigel going now but he has the excuse of a broken chain on his bike…!

The garden is going well and we have started to harvest our first vegetables – Silver Beet.  There is something special about eating home-grown produce, isn’t there?  Fresh and chemical free.  The Broccoli is almost ready and there are flowers on the courgettes, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes.  The spring onions are doing well as are the leeks and carrots. There is also a selection of “plants with no names” – I planted the seeds and rather foolishly used a water soluble pen to write the labels and the writing washed off in the rain!  Well, I quite like surprises!

We are starting to make plans for the Summer holidays – we have booked to go on the Overlander – the train down to Wellington in the first week of the summer hols.  We will stay with Nigel’s Aunties and have a family get together down there and then home back home for Christmas.  We have the option to spend New Year with some friends in a beach house they have booked but we would also like to go up to Northland as we haven’t explored up there yet.  Will let you know what we decide next post!

 

“Globe Trotting Granny”

A quick update for family to let you know how Aunty Margaret is getting on! IMG_2126 IMG_2098We picked her up from the airport in Auckland last Wednesday – took the opportunity to treat Aonghas to a Birthday trip up the Sky Tower and pizza in “Little Italy”.  Poor weather on Thursday and Friday confined us to relaxing at home, spending Aonghas’ birthday money that was burning a hole in his pocket – more Star Wars lego!, and going out for a drive to see the countryside from the dry and warmth of a car.  PA100072Friday was brighter so we headed to Hamilton Zoo.  A long day and more walking than Margaret was used to, but she seemed to have had a good time talking to the parrots and seeing the baby rhino.  We spent a long time watching the Lemurs and then the Samain monkeys – they were very noisy!  Aonghas and I rushed back to see them when we heard them screeching – they are really weird as their throats swell up when they shout and you can hear a sort of echo from it.  PA100068We went to see the African hunting dogs being fed – quite brutal but they have beautiful markings.  After that we headed over to see the giraffes being fed – quite a hike but just seeing their huge blue tongues snaking through the wire fence to grab the carrots and silver beet they were being offered.  (Did you know that that giraffes have blue tongues to protect them from the sun as they are often out of their mouths grazing?) We had to go and see the rhinos as they are Aonghas’ favourite – the babies from last year are now quite big but a new baby was out and about racing up and down the paddock before returning to Mum for some food!

PA100076On Sunday the day dawned bright and sunny – a clear blue sky beckoned and we set off to Taupo to Orakei Korako.  We think this is one of the best examples of a Geothermal park but it has certainly changed since we were last there.  The geothermal area itself is no different PA110084but the entry area has been bulldozed, the streams that feed the lake have been canalised underground and the camping area is no more – it looks like they are developing a more upmarket resort – and the price for the 2 minute crossing over the lake and entrance PA110094to the geothermal area has increased.  Nevertheless, the good weather made for a good walk around and it is definitely an amazing place.  We were fascinated by the ducks with hter ducklings paddling round in the hot water but apparently they hang around in the hot water to stay away from the Shags who can’t cope with the heat!PA110160

We ended the day with a quick look at Huka Falls and then tea in Taupo before heading home tired and ready for a rest!

PA110182Margaret had a quiet day on Monday until I dragged her off to Hamilton PA110157Gardens to look around the Paradise Collection.  They really are lovely and always look different depending on the time of year.

She is now gallivanting around Wellington and the Wairarapa with Nigel’s Aunty Chris and Uncle Brian.  She went off on the plane from Hamilton today and will be back on Thursday.  They have a full couple of days planned for her but we’ll tell you all about that when she gets back!

More photos on Facebook!

Shangri La

Another trip down Shangri La – can’t remember if we blogged the last one!  One of the students from Hillcrest mailed me a few weeks ago to see if I would like to go along on the caving trip she was organising as part of her Advanced PE course.  Nigel was due to be in Oz so I had to take the boys along but since they had already done the trip in December that wasn’t a problem.  We were supposed to go in a minibus but plans changed at the last minute and it was decided that we would go in two cars – mine and Hans’.  Arrived at Hillcrest High to find all the students there, but Uivel had done one of his usual vanishing acts, so we decided we had time for a quick dash to the big red warehouse for wellies.  Once underway it was an uneventful journey – van full of unnaturally quiet testosterone – six teenage boys (and Aonghas)  all wired for sound and typically uncommunicative.  We stopped in Waitomo for coffee and to pick up helmets and lights and then along the road to Shangri La.  Hans pulled in at a gateway and went to open it – I wasn’t convinced but he was sure that it was the right spot.  I had remembered a gateway to a short, steep rubble track which led to two gates at the top, one to the right which opened out into a field with a view down to the entrance doline.  We walked through the gate for a better look and walked up the hill.  It wasn’t what I remembered but he was adamant saying “I’ll drive down the road to have a look but I think you’ll find that I am right”.  As we came back down the hill a Ute pulled up – it was the landowner to say that we were in the wrong spot and that it was further down the hill!  No comment!  At the top of the right track there was really only one space for a vehicle without blocking the gateways and since Hans was in front he signalled for me to drive through the right hand gate to park in the field.  I was reluctant as the entrance looked very boggy.  “You’ll be fine,” he said,” just keep hard right and you’re on solid ground!”   As the van slewed round and took its own path through the gateway I felt a small knot of anxiety form in my breast!!!   Not much I could do now – might as well go caving and cross that bog when we came to it!  As we were getting changed Aonghas let out a scream and doubled up in quite some distress, it took a while before he could speak as he was sobbing so much but we finally worked out that he had put his hand onto the fence to balance and received a hefty jolt of electricity!  Bless him, he soon recovered, but I guess he will think twice before touching a fence again!

It was a good trip – a little more water than last time which made the lower streamway quite sporting (for beginners).  We had a little fossick around the side passages and the little ones enjoyed the mud slides.  Oh yes, forgot to mention that Hans had brought Briana his 8 yr old daughter along – good company for Aonghas once they both got over their shyness! I missed the left hand branch because I had remembered it as a right hand branch  (probably because we missed it last time and came back up the passage and found it on the right!) negotiated the climb down and then spent a little time checking for the way on.  Memory certainly plays tricks on you and the increase in water flow made me question whether we had been in the stream passage last time!  But we had and we soon found the way out to daylight and a mudslide to exit the cave!  The resurgence stream was flowing well unlike last December which meant we could wash most of the mud off our gear before walking back to the cars.

And now to that bridge to cross!  It took a while; a bit of manoeuvring, brute force and some old fencing but we managed to extricate the van almost intact. (we now have a nice dent in the back where someone pushed the soft part of the tailgate!)  Chips in Otorohanga and then home for a nice bath to ease those old and aching muscles!  Bring on the next caving trip! Must mail Lucy for copies of the photos.

Peace and quiet …for a wee while!

Well I find myself alone at home in the peace and quiet – a rare moment!  It is the end of an endless week but the time seems to be flying by and there are now only 4 weeks until the next holiday!  Practice exams are over, seniors are back full of good intentions after getting their exam results, the juniors are restless and ready for the reality of longer, warmers days that we have had  but a glimpse of in the last week or so and we are all looking forward to the opportunity to get outside and shed some layers.  But the climate is fickle and capricious; do we dare to shed the layers and feel hopeful, or will tomorrow bring a change of wind and a drop in temperature?  Who knows, but I, at least, take every scrap of sun and warmth and milk it for all I can!

So why am I alone in unaccustomed peace, you might ask?  The answer is that Nigel left for Australia at 6am and the boys are at squash coaching.  The peace will be short-lived as I will go and pick them up in half an hour, but we are without Nigel for a whole two weeks.  He is attending a string of conferences in various places in Oz over the next 15 days and conveniently has 4 days with nothing to do in the middle!  Good planning!  He had trouble packing as he couldn’t work out how hot it was going to be, poor thing!

Meanwhile, the boys and I will cope I am sure, and we are starting off this weekend with Aonghas’ hockey match and then a caving trip in Shangri-La in Waitomo – I’ll try and remember the camera this time!  Looking forward to it, will let you know how we get on.  Right then, better go and pick them up ….. Oh forgot to say I have two new children ,,,, a little soldier and a little girl!

A Trip to the Snow

Ngarahoehoe
Ngarahoehoe

We have finally made it to the Snow! ( Should have posted this before Midwinter madness… but forgot it was here! )

After much discussion, trawling the internet for accommodation and perusing the weather forecast we finally booked three days at Whakapapa.

Snowplough King!
Snowplough King!

Two excited boys and probably equally excited parents set off, car packed with winter woollies for the three hour drive to Mount Ruapehu.

..and all because the lady loves...
..and all because the lady loves...

We arrived in National Park Village too late to get skis and stuff so headed to the chalet and settled down for tea.  The mountain had been closed all day due to high winds but next day dawned clear and bright with stunning views of Ruapehu and Ngaruhoehoe.  Off to the ski shop where the boys and I were quickly sorted but half an hour later and on his 7 zillionth pair of boots later we were still waiting for Nige to fit his knobbly feet into rigid, unforgiving plastic!  Up to the slopes then and we were a trifle nervous about whether we would need chains or even if the van would get up the hill!

Ruapehu
Ruapehu

However, no problem, though only four-wheel drives and chained vehicles were allowed right to the end of the road; the rest of us had to park lower down and then use the free shuttle buses to get to the resort.  Lachlan was itching to get on the slope and was keen, as only a 14 year old boy with little imagination can be, to just get to the top of the mountain and ski down! We had decided to book the boys into lessons so Aonghas went down to Happy Valley and Lachlan went up to the Rock Garden, and we had a couple of hours to ourselves to explore!  We spent the afternoon skiing the mountain taking turns with each of the boys and by the time we dragged them away from the slopes they were both skiing confidently.P7170009

Next day we put Aonghas into another lesson which gave him a real boost and then we hit him with the Rock Garden!  It’s amazing how resilient kids are; despite lots of wipeouts and a good amount of tears, frustration and temper Aonghas still wanted to go back up and ski down again!  Lachlan bulldozed his way inelegantly down the upper mountain in a neanderthal snowplough but loved every minute; he survived a mega wipeout on his first ride on a T-bar and was soon riding them like an expert!  Two happy but exhausted boys were out like lights the moment their heads hit the pillows!

ups-a-daisy!
ups-a-daisy!

We paid the price of not remembering how dehydrated you can get on the ski slopes – Aonghas suffered that evening and was quite sick but a good night’s sleep and plenty of water and he bounced out of bed the next day as children do!

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

We were vindicated in our decision to take our hire stuff back the previous evening when we awoke to a mountain disguised as a fuzzy grey cloud!  Made our way home with a sense of achievement and a determination to come back for more!

Aonghas in Happy Valley
Aonghas in Happy Valley

More mid-winter madness and the Glorious 12th!

I note from comments on Facebook that the Glorious 12th is upon us!

Life goes on and I read with envy the summer holiday exploits of friends in the UK as we don our winter clothes and wrap up against the cold. Can’t complain though, as the extreme low temperatures seem to be behind us and spring is in the air. It is true that we have had some very cold weather but it has also been clear and bright.  Of course we have seen rain and fog, and had some cold, damp days but the overall impression is of a bright, cold winter.  Over the last few weekends Nigel has been working hard in the garden digging, pruning, shredding and building, and we now have two raised beds for vegetables.  I have pottered about tidying up the straggly plants, weeding and pruning.  Everything seems to grow so fast here, especially the weeds which almost appear to come through as fast as you pull them out!   We will have to really work out a good composting and mulching system as we produce so much garden waste.  We have already drastically pruned some of the smaller trees, had a reasonable go at the lower branches of some of the bigger ones but probably need some advice on how to attack others.  We have plenty of ideas and plans for the garden and are quite excited about what we can do.  It has been interesting working out what sort of new plants we can grow outdoors here;  Tamarillos, oranges, lemons, peppers, chillis, feijoas, passion fruit.  Mmmm… can’t wait!

I had a setback in my learning how to say “No” campaign, (remember, part of the moving to New Zealand strategy of not getting too involved and over stretched).  A couple of weeks ago I found myself responsible for the Year 12 PE ski trip – my colleague who should have taken the group had to pull out at the last moment so I was asked if I would step in – sorry Sue, I said “yes”.  How could I not? Can’t resist the opportunity to go skiing and Zara needed help….. After complicated arrangements with Vicky, our Principal about where she would leave the minibus key for me to collect at 6am so that I wouldn’t disturb her and her husband (they were using the minibus the evening before), I arrived at school at 5.45 to find the school gates locked!  Zara had left me an incredibly detailed set of instructions for the 3 day trip but had omitted to mention that I would need a code to open the school gates!  I looked to see if the pedestrian gates were open but they too were locked.  I had a feeling that if I could get in the sensors would be activated once I drove the bus towards the gate and it would open.   After some agonising I decided I would have to phone Zara and see if she knew what the code was – she didn’t!  So, encouraged by the fact that the girls were starting to arrive I decided to jump the gate and hope that my intuition about the sensors was right.  Luckily it was and we managed to get the van out and loaded up, and then we were off.

The good weather on the down made it a quick trip and we arrived at Whakapapa in good time to have a full afternoon on the mountain.  Just as well as it was the best weather of the three days!  Nevertheless, it was bitterly cold riding the chairlifts as the wind blew the snow into our faces and soaked us to the bone.  Despite a heavy snowfall during the night the mountain was closed the next day, apart from the Nursery slopes, due to high winds – reminds me of Scotland!  The girls showed great ingenuity in skiing all day, still having fun and making it a challenge on one busy ski slope with one lift and a very long queue!  At 9pm the sky was crystal clear, the stars were out and competing with the lights of the piste-bashers which were moving around the mountain like huge extra-terrestrial robots.  At 5am there was no change – we started to think that the weather forecast was wrong and we would have a good morning’s skiing.  At 7am a cloud descended and shrouded the mountain – no wind so the lifts opened and off we went!  The snow was great under the skis but we couldn’t see it – a bit unnerving when you are the only ones on the mountain and can’t see the edges of it!  Luckily we had dug the minibus out of the snowdrift the day before and pointed it downhill so we had no problems getting away and back up to Hamilton.

The following weekend, Lachlan went to the same place for his Sports Development Snow trip …. he had two days of glorious blue skies and the benefit of the huge snowfall when we were away.  He was one of only three skiers in the group as all the rest were beginner snowboarders, so the three of them skied for two days with the instructor – a great experience!  He came home full of excitement as he had been asked to be a reserve in the school ski team!  He is off to the North Island School Ski Champs in a couple of weeks, and though it is unlikely that he will compete,  he will get to ski for five days with some top skiers and get extra coaching.

Don’t know if we will get away skiing again as a family – we’ll see what the weather is like in the Spring holidays.

Mid-winter Holidays – time to write again!

Wow!  What a busy term! When we looked at the term planner at the beginning of last term we were pleased to note that there were at least 4 short weeks – that is weeks with one non-teaching day.  They were either Teacher Professional Development  Days or whole school events such as House Cross Country and House Singing. However if we were under any illusion then that that would mean a bit of a break, we certainly aren’t now!  It has been a frenetic and exhausting term coupled with cold weather and short days.  I am definitely ready for a bit of time to replenish my energy store.

Swine Flu has also added to the worries – with classes missing up to 12 girls at a time due to illness, teaching and learning has been affected.  I guess if you are reading this in the UK you may well be unaware of the hype surrounding Swine Flu – probably only heard about it in passing on International news.  Here however, it is a constant in the news.  We had our first 3 deaths over the weekend and have gone from “Containment” to “Management”.  To start off with everyone coming off a plane was carefully checked for flu-like symptoms and immediately tested and quarantined; those with no symptoms were asked to monitor their own health and report immediately to a doctor if they developed flu symptoms.  In schools, Senior Leadership Teams were manically preparing Pandemic Plans in case of school closures; indeed several schools around NZ did close for short periods. The aim was to try to contain the virus but once the magic number of over 100 reported/tested cases ranged around the country was reached we went into “Management” phase.  To the dismay of the students this means that there are unlikely to be any school closures unless so many staff and students are absent with the virus that it is impossible to operate effectively.  We have had one confirmed case in our school but it is likely that there have been others as the doctors are no longer routinely testing suspected cases.  It is generally perceived to be no more dangerous than normal seasonal flu; masses of deaths are not expected but it highly contagious.  The fear is that so many people will be ill and unable to work at once that the basic infrastructure of daily life will be threatened.  We are still in the middle of winter so still plenty of time for people to succumb to wintry illnesses which lower the immune system leaving it open to the HN1N1 virus.  Let’s hope that we emerge unscathed!

I have just recovered my voice after losing it somewhere for a few days to the great amusement of my boys. Standing out in the damp and cold watching LachlanLachlan playing rugby in far flung destinations in the Waikato probably hasn’t helped, but then neither has playing hockey in the pouring rain 3 weekends on the trot!  How come it always seems to rain on Sundays?  Reading that, it sounds like we have had a wet winter but that is certainly not the case. For the most part we have been blessed with high pressure which has meant beautiful clear blue skies, very cold nights and early mornings (-5C) but warming up to around 15C in the sun in the afternoons.  Can’t really complain!  However, the school holidays have started and so has the rain – why am I not surprised?  At least that means that it will be snow over the mountains, which is all good as we plan to get to the ski fields next week. Well  that does depend on Number 1 Son who, true to form, has managed to injure himself playing rugby.  He came off worse in a tackle on Saturday and has sprained his shoulder (not sure what that means!) but apparently he should be okay after a couple of weeks rest.  It does mean that instead of playing tennis this week he will be at home and useful as a babysitter so that I can go out and catch up with some friends….

Lachlan is the proud winner of his first squash tournament despite not being able to play his final match.  He has already spent his winnings –a $30 Warehouse Voucher – on a DVD and a CD.  His rugby team are struggling to win after having managed to qualify for the “A” Grade competition. They certainly don’t lack talent but commitment to training is a problem and getting up early to get to Away matches is not popular (I can relate to that!).  So far they have lost all but one game which they drew but the results don’t tell the whole story; if we only played 2nd halves we would have won most of the matches – it takes them 40 minutes to get going! Never mind, it is all a learning process and hopefully they will come out of it stronger, more well-rounded players!!!  (see http://www.hillcrestrugby.co.nz/ for match reports and pictures)

Aonghas and his hockey team have had more success so far.  After the first few rounds of short 25 minute games they have qualified for the Milne Cup competition as one of the top 8 teams.  From now on games will be more competitive as they will be playing the best teams and they will also last 45 minutes.  However, they have really come on as a team; there are a few players who have played before but also a few, like Aonghas, who have never even held a stick before!  Aonghas is really enjoying playing – he has scored a few goals which has helped his confidence and he now needs to work on hitting the ball.

other random acts of leisure!

150th Anniversary King Movement NgaruawahiaLooking back at my posts I guess you might be forgiven for thinking that all we are doing here is relaxing and having fun!  “It’s all just one long holiday!” I hear you say. Well, it does seem like that but we have punctuated our leisure time with quite a lot of hard work!  I have just taken on the challenge of being our school’s “Teacher IT Coach”  (Yes, Sue, I know I said I would learn to say “no”, but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break!)  So, the pressure is on to live up to the title and make sure that I sound like I know what I am talking about!  Good job I thrive on challenges!!??

Talking of challenges, Lachlan had a great time at the Rotorua Moon Ride; he managed 7 circuits and averaged 25 minutes per lap which was apparently pretty good.  He definitely impressed some of the more experienced riders in the MTB club.  He came back absolutely exhausted but very happy and pleased with himself.

I had a great time on a fishing trip to the Coromandel with my former sunset on the Coromandelcolleagues at Hillcrest High – another successful session with our full quota of 9 fish each – all Snapper – delicious!  I had been rather apprehensive the week leading up to it as there had been a severe weather warning for the Coromandel.  Visions of being uncomfortably nauseous both on the bus and the boat troubled my sleep, but luckily the day dawned calm if a little misty.  The ocean was like a mill pond, thankfully, and the misty day turned into a beautiful evening.Aonghas & Adam

I have also started playing hockey again – mad, I know, but training for the Duathlon has given me a bit of fitness and confidence to have a go.  My shoulder is still a bit dodgy but I am taking things steadily (really!) and just playing it by ear.  Lachlan and I have also joined the local squash club – after a 20 year absence from playing it has been good to get back into it!  Just like hockey though – I know what I want to do but the body can’t quite get there!  In my mind I am still that fit 20-something who can outrun anyone – well a girl has to have a dream!

The first week of Term 2 I was lucky enough to spend 3 days at the Turangawaewae Marae with my Year 11 Form.  Home of the Tainui and the Maori King.  The former Maori Queen was once a “Dio Girl” so the school has a strong link with the Tainui. It was an amazing experience and a very special one, we spent a day doing cultural activities to find out more about the Maori culture – flax weaving, Poi-poi, rakau sticks, history of the Marae, and exploring the symbols used in the artwork and carvings. It was fascinating and the girls all surprsied themselves by really enjoying it.  The Marae can sleep about 500 people in large, communal sleeping areas,  and they are experts at feeding large numbers too!

That week was the final week of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the King Movement so the place was very busy!  On the Saturday I took the boys and Nigel back to Ngaruawahia to see the Waka salute to the Maori King.  steering the wakaThat was a very moving experience – the sound of the Haka as the waka come down the river is impressive.  You can well imagine the feeling of fear that the war cries would have caused when the Haka was performed in anger!  I feel very priveleged to have been able to spend time at the marae, meet some of the people who live there and find out just a little about the culture.  We were even more priveleged to be allowed to climb up Taupiri – a very sacred Maori burial ground. Joseph, one of the teachers at Dio, who’s family live on the pa, told us the story of how it became a tapu area.  I am always fascinated by legends and tales of how places get their names and the history surrounding them.

Well, back to work – Year 9 and 10 reports are due in a week’s time so I guess I should do something about it!

Heading into winter…

So we’re settled into our new house, started to get to grips with the garden – even bought some plants, a shredder to mulch the prunings and the falling autumn leaves.  We have plans to create a veggie plot and swap some of the decorative perennials for fruit trees.  Aonghas has already planted some carrots and marigolds ( or marlegods as he calls them!) in the boxes outside his window.  The early Camellias are starting to flower and we have a carpet of deep pink petals in our garden.  Roses are still blooming but the trees are wearing their autumnal colours and looking glorious in rich shades of yellow red, red rosethrough orange to red.

Well, what have we been up to..?  Boys have finished summer sports and are training for their chosen winter sports.  Lachlan is continuing with rugby, but has taken up squash and, as he is in Year 10 he is allowed to use the weights room at school.  Aonghas has decided to try hockey this year and is enjoying that – he even scored a goal last week!  Lachlan is also running regularly and still cycling.  Next weekend he is heading to Rotorua to take part in the Moon Ride – a 12 hour mountain biking marathon.  He is riding as part of a team and they will take it in turns to do the 15km circuits from 10amAonghas playing hockey to 10pm.  We were down there a couple of weekends ago and all had a go on the tracks. The Redwoods is a great forest with masses of mountain bike tracks of all levels.  Aonghas coped really well with them and ventured down the Dipper which even I braved, though Nigel decided that caution was the better part of valour and chickened out!  (we won’t hold it against him!)

We were down in Rotorua as I was taking part in a Duathlon, we decided to make a weekend of it as it was the last weekend of the Easter holidays, and our friends Liz and Chaz were also there with their boys, Jamie and Josh.  Liz was competing in the Duathlon too, as well as a couple more of our friends.  We stayed in the Thermal Holiday park – the same one we stayed in when we Aonghas on the "Dipper"were here on holiday in 2005. We rented a self contained unit which, in estate agent speak, made good use of space – compact and bijou!  The advantage of the park are the hot pools, plenty of running around space for energetic boys, a games room as well as a television! After a couple of weeks of glorious weather we had a weekend of rain and wind, so the going was soft and muddy!  We set off with the wind and rain lashing our faces, but once on the way and into the forest, we soon warmed up.  The pressure was off as far as times go because of the weather conditions so we just relaxed and went with the flow.  Obviously a good move because I ended up with a time 5 minutes faster than the last duathlon I did and a top 10 finish!  We hung around in the cold and wet for the spot prizes because you never know ……. that $2000 bike might just have your name on it!  Sadly it wasn’t to be..maybe next time!  But, boy were those hot pools good when we got back to the holiday park!  A couple of hours later and nicely coddled we emerged to head back home!

We stopped off at what has become a bit of a regular, favourite spot for us – the Fat Dog cafe.  Huge portions of scrummy food and plenty of veggie options for Nigel.  Heaps of sald with home made burgers as well as BLATs, fries, wedges ….mmm,  my mouth is watering just thinking of it!

A new Year – a new school…

Third week in and I am starting to find my way around Dio, learnt a few names of both staff and students and almost feel like I’ve been there forever! Everyone is very friendly, and there is a calm atmosphere about the place.  It is strange only seeing girls around after a lifetime of teaching in mixed schools, but it is certainly a very different environment.

Spent 4 days at Year 9 Camp at Ngaruawahia which was great – fantastic weather – clear blue skies and glorious sunshine.  A couple of misty mornings in the valley but the cloud soon burned away.  I got a chance to have a go at Waka Ama – paddling a Maori canoe – we had a pretty stable Catamaran version with two boatsTeam 12 Waka Ama strapped together with 6 people each side.  It was great fun and my team of girls was awesome.  We held the best time for the race from the second session right through to the last day but were narrowly beaten in the end!  Raft building was fun and racing our rafts in the slimy, eel infested lake led to lots of girlish shrieking and fierce competition!  Blindfold climbing was a first but we all rose to the challenge, and Team 12 (aka the best team)  won the Camp Concert – a real team effort!

Nigel and I were invited to the official opening of the Piki Mahuta Arts Centre at school last week – quite an honour it seems as not many staff were extended the courtesy.  However, I think I was invited as I teach in there.  Piki Mahuta is the name that the Maori Queen (Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu) was known by when she attended Dio as a girl.  She died about 3 years ago which was when the building was in its planning stages which is why it got its name.  It was a very grand affair and my first official Maori event.  I was humbled by the fact that I understood little of what was said and it has made me even more determined to learn more Maori.  The singing from both the Kapa Haka group from school and the Maori Whanau was wonderful.  They have an amazingly sonorous singing style which such depth and strength.  At the beginning of next term I will have the privelege of going to stay at the Tainui Marae with my Year 11 form for a few days and am really looking forward to it.  We are welcome there as a school because of the links we have with the Maori Royal Family through Piki Mahuta.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Blog resumed 12/04/09

Holiday time again, so time to write and catch up!  I can’t believe a whole term has already slipped by!  As usual, I get to the penultimate week of the term and realise that I haven’t covered half the work I should have with my classes though we still seemed to have done lots in the lessons!   I suddenly panic that they are woefully under prepared for assessments….and they probably are!  Time just seems to run away from us, but another Easter is here and we’re ready for a break.

gardenNigel has Friday, Monday and Tuesday off so we’ll see what the weather does and try to get away somewhere.  There’s a place called Pureora just between Te Kuiti and Taupo that seemingly has some good mountain bike tracks suitable for beginners and old crocks!   Lachlan might need challenging but we could just make him do them as a time trial!  Not quite sure how we’re going to manage to get bikes and camping gear as well as children in the car – we’ll need more clothes too as summer has definitely drawn to a close.  The clocks went back last week and the evenings are dark and chilly.  Although it is nowhere near as cool as it would be in the Dales, the temperature seems to have dropped very quickly so I think we feel it more.

I am still trying to train for my second Duathlon, spurred on by success in a 5km run that I did with some friends from school. Much to my surprise – wasn’t sure I had heard correctly at the prize giving!  We only hung around because of the spot prizes – one of the good things about these mass events is that there is always the chance to win a bike or training shoes or sports kit just for being there!  It’s impossible to resist staying because just imagine if you went home and your name was picked for the BIG prize?!   Anyway, we were sitting there and my name was read out as the winner – yes, WINNER! Of ….. the 5km ……over 45s race!  Hey, don’t mock it!  I won a sports bra, pants and socks!!  And I’m pretty chuffed really – first time I’ve ever come first at anything!

Bought a new car today – we have put off the dreaded deed for several weeks now, but with the clocks going back and the promise of dark mornings and evenings, as well as wintry weather we decided we had to bite the bullet and hit the car sale yards.  We have all been trying to cycle as much as possible – partly because we enjoy it but also to keep petrol costs down, but after school activities, meetings and the onset of winter mean that we really do need two cars.  We looked at “little” cars and test drove a Toyota Vitz (Yaris in Europe) – not bad at all for an about town r"indoor outdoor flow"un around but very little leg room in the back for a growing 14 year old so we ended up with a Suzuki Aerio – a bit more space and a bigger engine without really compromising on efficiency (we hope!).

Also had a good clear out of the garage – emptied more boxes and sorted out rubbish to make space for the garden furniture and create a sort of indoor “rec” space for the boys.  The garden has blossomed (read “overgrown”!) – things seem to grow so fast here, but we have had a few days hard graft and got on top of the weeds. teenage boy We bought a shredder for all the prunings so Nigel has spent some happy hours feeding it twigs and branches and creating mulch for the garden.  We have been looking at what we can dig out, what needs to go and what needs to stay – whoever planted the garden had some great ideas but there are lots of large shrubs and trees very close to one another that need thinning and reorganising.  We also want to put in some vegetable beds so will need to create some space focub-investiturer them.  Aonghas was inspired and has planted the boxes outside his room with carrots and Marigolds as well as some Lavendar and ornamental grasses.  The carrots and Marigolds have already sprouted so he is quite excited! Lots to do but looking forward to the challenge.  The Camellias are coming into bloom and the roses just keep flowering so the garden is full of colour and we have been blessed with some beautiful early Autumn weather – quite crisp in the mornings but clear blue skies and a warm sun despite a nip in the air.

Easter Sunday today so the boys had their traditional egg hunt in the garden – Lachlan really thinks he is too old for that but he joined in all the same and enjoyed it despite himself! (certainly polished off the chocolate pretty quickly!) Talking of which – might just go and eat some of my Easter Egg …..

Oh, how could I forget?  Aonghas has finally got to the top of the list for Cubs and has been having a great time every Monday evening doing a whole range of fun activities.  He was invested a couple of weeks ago – a poor photo attached but the best I could get! He went on his first Cub camp last weekend and came back happy and exhausted! Mudslides, swimming, camp fires, exciting games and heaps of friends – a 9 year old’s dream!

Sports update!

img_5994We have just come into Autumn here but you wouldn’t really know – weather still beautiful though there has been a bit of welcome (for the farmers) rain. Sunday morning here and I am up to take Lachlan to tennis – I am managing his tennis team this season.  Blithely ticked the “am happy to help out” when we joined the club and got a phone call before the ink was dry!  Well, it gets me up on a Sunday morning!  The boys have both trained as Ball Boys and did their first tournament last week – it was a whelelchair tennis competition and this weekend there is the ASB Pro circuit so they will do that, get a couple of days off school and meet some of the A list pros (about 200th in the world) who will be playing in it.  One perk of being a manager is that Lachlan and Aonghas will get to be in the group that has a special session with some of the pros – a bit of a knock about with them, autographs and goodies.  No idea if we will even have heard of any of them but they will have some fun. img_6010

Lachlan’s tennis has really improved with some regular, good and relatively cheap coaching at the club.  He trains in the U16 development squad and plays at the club three or four times a week.  He has even started to win some matches after a string of close matches which he lost with unflattering score lines!

The rugby season starts in a few weeks and Aonghas can’t decide whether to play soccer or rugby this year but he got a promotional letter from Richie McCaw last week (sent to all kids in junior rugby clubs!) and was quite impressed so he thought he might go for the rugby!  Since then he has decided to go for hockey!  However he is still a bit unsure as he would quite like to play football too.  Unfortunately they all happen on a Saturday morning which makes decisions difficult, especially for a 9 year old!

Lachlan has just started pre-season training for rugby – looks like there may be some competition this year as there are a few more players than last year.  I have “volunteered” to be team manager this year – I still can’t say “no”!  I quite enjoy being on the sidelines though, chatting to other parents and watching the matches.img_6071

Over the summer the boys have both done the Weetbix Tryathlon – there are a series of these events around the country specially for kids to introduce them to triathlons.  Last year Aonghas competed as part of a team but decided he wanted to do the whole thing this year.  Lachlan also competed in the Waikato Schools Triathlon last week – a bit tougher than the Weetbix!  Because of his Birthday he had to compete in the U16 race and also found that the majority of the other boys had road bikes rather than mountain bikes! Nevertheless he reckons he came in somewhere in the middle of the bunch so was quite proud of himself.  The 400m swim was in Lake Karapiro – quite chilly but fortunately the day of the race was fine after a blustery cold evening the night before.

A few weeks ago he competed in  the Black Stump Mountain Bike Race.  We had had weeks of hot weather and sunshine, but the Black Stump is not known as the “Drought Breaker” for nothing! A couple of days before the race the rain started – the course is renowned for being muddy – thick clay-ey mud – and on the Saturday morning we woke to a cold grey sky. The temperature had plummeted from somewhere in the mid 20s to about 12 degrees C!  I took photos and waited, shivering, for Lachlan to finish.  It is very scary as a parent waiting – worse than rugby I think because you see all the other accident prone people coming back muddy and bloody and wonder when yours will come back!  He finished  in under two hours (18km) which apparently was a img_6122pretty good time for his first big ride!  The Black Stump is supposed to be the toughest ride on the race circuit!  I think he pushed/carried more than he rode but then so did everyone else and he came over the finish line covered in mud!

Aonghas has done a lot of swimming this year – he loves the water and we joined the Fairfield Swim Club at the beginning of the summer.  Aonghas has been having two lessons a week and has also enjoyed competing in club swim nights each Wednesday. ( A lolly for every race you enter  and spot prizes at the end are a big incentive!)  Any way all the practice has paid off as last wep2200255ek he qualified to represent his school in the 25m back crawl.  The big day was today and he went off proudly this morning.  He came second in his heat but didn’t have a fast enough time to swim in the final.  He had fun though!

On Monday he was invested as a Cub – on the waiting list since we arrived here last year, he now has his uniform and is loving cub nights. He had a great time at the National Mudslide day a couple of weeks ago then last week he got his swimming badge.

weetbix-official-2As the weather is still good we are all still cycling to work and Aonghas is enjoying a little bit of freedom cycling to school with his friend Adam a couple of days a week.  We were a bit nervous at first about letting him cycle on his own but Nigel has been “training” him in road awareness and we eventually had to let him go!  So far no problems though he still cycles with Nigel most days.  Nearly everyone (kids anyway) cycles on the pavements here, there is much more of the ethos that cyclists and pedestrians “share and care” which makes us a bit happier about letting him go on his own though there are still plenty of roads to cross.  The main ones have crossings and motorists really do stop at zebras here!img_6018

I am trying to keep/get fit.  My shoulder is still crook – I have a torn fluid pocket in the Rotator cuff muscle which has kept me out of tennis and swimming ALL summer. Starting to improve now but daren’t play tennis – can’t do overarm stuff or any stretching behind me, so I have done a bit of one armed and very gentle two armed swimming. Can also cycle so have been cycling to work every day and doing the odd run with Lachlan.  I did a Duatweetbix-official-5hlon a couple of weekends ago and enjoyed that. It was only a short one 3.5km run + 10km bike + 1.5km run but my legs felt like sludge when I got off the bike and started to run and that last 1500m was murder! However I managed to do it in less than an hour so was quite pleased with myself.  Since I had so much fun torturing myself I have registered to do another one in Rotorua in late April along with a couple of friends – better start some training as I would like to improve on my time.  This weekend I am doing a 5km run in Cambridge with some girlfriends from school and then having lunch afterwards.  (that’s the real incentive!)

I spent a day instructing Outdoor Ed at a Muslim women’s camp that a friend of mine organised  last week – an interesting day.  Some of the girls/women had never had the opportunity to walk in the bush, climb, abseil or even have a go on a flying fox.  They had a great time.  and I really enjoyed myself too.  The camp took place out at Pirongia – a beautiful setting and a well organised set-up. Another spot to add to the list of places to go with the family as it is only half an hour away.

Next week I am away on camp with the Year 9s – the programme looks good but I have to get down to planning work to leave for the rest of my classes!  Better get to it!

Catch up

Otauto Bay
Otauto Bay

Long time no write – we have been just a tad busy over the last few weeks, but now most of the boxes are unpacked, and the house is in some semblance of order, I thought I’d take some time out to write an update.

Where did I leave you – I think we had just decided to buy 7 Naylor Street and were in the throes of packing and getting to grips with the property buying system here in NZ.  Everything went according to plan and on 12th December at around about lunchtime I had a call from the solicitor to say that the keys were ready to be picked up.  We had arranged for our new bed to be delivered that afternoon and Nigel was going to pick up the new sofa (Yes, we splashed out!) so I headed to the house with a pile of boxes and some cleaning stuff.  What a wonderful surprise – the house was spotless – the previous owners had engaged a cleaning company to scrub the place – it was immaculate!  So I wandered around, opened all the doors and windows and had a thoroughly good explore of our new home.  The best thing about it so far is the open plan living room with access to the garden on two sides.  It’s almost like having another living room – we’ve put the old settee out there as

well as the garden table and chairs and it is very pleasant sitting out there even quite late into the evening.  The garden is very pretty and well laid out and the sitting areas are sheltered and quiet. When Blair was out here over Christmas he tidied up the straggly bushes and deadheaded the roses for us, but really there is little to do to the garden except keep it tidy.  We have plans of course – there are several Camellias and lots of roses as well as some beautiful ornamental grasses and other shrubs and trees we don’t know the names of – but we would like to create a vegetable plot and swap some of the ornamental trees for fruit trees.  However, we will see how things grow over the next 12 months before we start decimating the place!

Matiu Island
Matiu Island

Inside I am revelling in having an en suite bathroom – no more queues for the shower in the morning and a toilet seat that is down not up!! (you need to have a family of boys to appreciate that one!) But generally just having space to move around and finally unpack all those boxes is great.

As I said, Nigel’s brother Blair came to stay over Christmas. He helpfully arrived the day after we moved in though gave us a bit of a scare when he didn’t arrive on the day he said he would, which was our moving day.  We had arranged for a shuttle bus to pick him up and got a call from them mid-afternoon to ask us if he had actually got

Fantail Bay walk

on the plane as there was no sign of him.  After a couple of anxious hours and some unproductive phone calls to the airport and the airline we realised that due to the time difference he must have got the day wrong. Fortunately the Shuttle service was up at the airport the next day and picked him up for us!  He spent last Christmas helping us pack up the house in Ingleton and this year helping us unpack in Hamilton, hopefully next time he visits we won’t be moving again!

We headed down to Greytown on the Friday Aonghas finished school – Lachlan had already had a week off by this stage, mooching around with his friends.  A quick stop in Taupo for a late lunch/early tea and then straight on down. Next day we went over to Wellington for a family get together.  Mike and Kathryn – Nigel’s cousin and his wife were over from Malaysia where Mike is working at the moment but were due to return the next day.  It was good to meet up with them again and Aonghas enjoyed playing with Alexia whilst Lachlan looked on with a sort of teenage superiority!

Matiu Island view
Matiu Island view

We spent the next few days between Greytown and Wellington – Aonghas was desperate to go to Te Papa again and we all had last minute Christmas shopping to do.  On Tuesday we went out to Matiu/Soames Island which is a former quarantine island used by the European settlers when they arrived in NZ in the 19th century.  Sadly, some of them never made it off the island to discover the delights of the new life they had left Europe for. It is a beautiful place and DOC (The Department of Conservation) have adopted it as an Island Sanctuary where they are trying to eliminate all mammalian predators in order to regenerate the native bush and wildlife.  It is one of the few places where you can see skinks and lizards – we had fleeting glimpses as they dashed across our path.  We also had to duck and weave as the odd protective nesting seagull dive bombed us!  There are more and more “Island” sanctuaries being created by DOC, I think I have already talked about Maungatautari which is not far from us and we visited another called Mount Bruce whilst we were away.  After the beautiful weather on Matiu island the rain came and so looking for wet weather options Terry suggested Mount Bruce.  This is a newly developed area with a visitor centre and a Kiwi house.  It was fascinating seeing the kiwis interacting and using their long beaks grubbing for food.  The Kiwi house is specially adapted to simulate night time so that visitors can see the kiwis as they are nocturnal birds. They have a few that have been reared in captivity and will not be released into the wild, but as they produce young they are carefully nurtured so that they can be released into the wild in the areas that have been made predator free. We also watched the Kaka being fed – these are NZ parrots that have been released into the area, but as they are quite social birds they still come back to the feeding area.  They are only given a snack as they get the bulk of their diet for themselves in the wild, but again, it is fascinating watching them scrapping with each other and squawking. Later on when we went for a walk at Waikaremoana we could hear the Kaka above the other birds they have such a distinctive call.  The birdsong in the bush was amazing – I think it was the noisiest walk I have done – even Aonghas couldn’t compete!’ We could clearly hear the Tuis and the Bellbirds as well as NZ robins, fantails and a whole host of others that I don’t yet recognise.

Pohutakawa
Pohutakawa

The sun came out for Christmas day and the planned barbecue went ahead – I still can’t quite get my head around a hot Christmas but we had the full works for Christmas Day – cooked English breakfast, roast lamb, potatoes etc for dinner, the only real difference being the kumara which seems to be served in almost every dish in every restaurant here.  Nigel and Blair really struggled whenever we ate out as they use kumara or pumpkin as the basis for nearly all vegetarian dishes – not one of Nigel’s favourites!

We headed up the coast to Napier on Boxing Day and had a day on the beach which was lovely – rather overdid the sun exposure despite liberal lathering with sun screen – swimming and playing in the sea was a welcome activity after being inland for so long! Napier is an interesting place with it’s 1930’s architecture, though we didn’t really have time to explore it much. The beaches are graded pebbles – Aonghas wasn’t impressed as he couldn’t dig but it was quite nice for wriggling down in the warm pebbles and making a comfortable “nest” to lie on! (and no sand in the sandwiches either!)

silver fern sphere, Wellington
silver fern sphere, Wellington

From there we went inland to another “island” reserve around a lake called Waikaremoana (sea of rippling waters) – this is a huge lake in the Te Urewa National Park.  It really is beautiful and well worth the uncomfortable drive to get there and back out again.  The main Wairoa to Rotorua State Highway goes through the Park but 90km of it is un sealed and very rutted!  The car had a thick coating of red dust all over it by the time we got out!  We found a basic DOC campsite (standpipe and Longdrop toilet) but got a tent pitch right next to the lake.  Aonghas was keen to get straight in the water but took a while to persuade Lachlan to come in with him – in the end Blair offered them 2 dollars for the first to get in – Aonghas was straight in there but it still took Lachlan an age to submerse himself!  It was quite cold – the lake is at 600m – I went in for a morning swim the next day and came out numb!  Very refreshing though! We were short of gas so Lachlan and Blair went into the bush to get some firewood just in case. (we’d already checked with the warden that it was okay to have a fire and there were already fireplaces constructed along the lakeside) Lachlan was disappointed that we didn’t need to light the fire that evening – it was also a bit windy so we were reluctant to inconvenience our neighbours. We went to bed after a beautiful clear evening and a dark night sky full of stars, with the Morepork calling to each other to wake the next day to mist and rain!

Waikaremoana sunset
Waikaremoana sunset

Undeterred we set off on a walk through the bush to a smaller lake called Waikereiti.  It was only a short walk but a wet one but the bush sheltered us from the worst of the rain and there was plenty to look at and hear on the way.  Definitely a place to go back to in the future as there is plenty of scope for longer walks and overnight tramps.

Back to Hamilton for New Year.  It was good to touch base and do a bit more unpacking.  Fortunately the weather was good again so we managed to dry out the wet tent we had packed away in Waikaremoana.  We had a quiet Hogmanay with just the five of us but it was lovely to be at home (and sleeping in our new, very comfortable bed!) I have been struggling with a damaged rotator cuff muscle and sleeping on the hard ground in a tent didn’t do it much good!  But a couple of days later we packed up again and drove up to Otauto Bay on the Coromandel coast to stay with Lorraine and Rob on their campsite.  A chance for the boys to go fishing – Blair usually fishes for Pike in Scotland so was looking forward to some sea fishing, and he had bought a fishing rod for Aonghas for Christmas so he was keen to try it out!  We had four days of beautiful weather after the first night of thunderstorms cleared the air.

Aonghas fishing
Aonghas fishing

Unfortunately the fishing wasn’t as productive as we were told it had been the previous week, but we all caught something so were happy.  Just being out on the boat early in the morning, the sun shining and the breeze blowing the cobwebs away is wonderful.  I could quite happily sit out there all day, rocking on the waves (as long as they aren’t too big!).  The boys had great fun playing in the sea – they managed to borrow some kayaks which kept them occupied for hours.  Aonghas, of course, was perfectly happy to dig and create fortifications to keep out the sea and then watch them being engulfed before starting all over again!  I enjoyed my early morning swims when nobody else was around – it was like having the whole ocean to myself!

Before we left to go up the Coromandel we decided we needed a map so that we could get back to one of our favourite past times of poring over the map of the area we were visiting and planning walking routes (and then looking at them afterwards to see where we had been).  We had very reluctantly parted with our collection of OS maps when we left the UK, but decided that maps were to be used not stored so gave them to friends we knew would appreciate them.  We are quite excited at the prospect of starting a new collection of NZ maps as we visit new places but were disappointed to find that here in NZ that 1:25 000 maps do not exist!!  They only have 1:50 000 and there are very few footpaths marked on them.  However a lot of the land is open access or is owned/managed by DOC and there are walking route cards available from  them (usually at a small cost of $1) which give information about the area and which parts are open access.

Fire building
Fire building

At the moment most of the walks we have done have been on marked trails but as we get more familiar with the terrain and the environment we will go a bit further afield.  Anyway, to get back to the map for the Coromandel – it turned out that we needed TWO maps for the small area we were going to and one of the maps is 90% water!! We decided to do one of the walks marked on the DOC leaflet though not marked on the map – it went up from Fantail Bay and was described as going up to the bushline where their were fantastic views of the Coromandel.  After a couple of hours fishing and playing in the sea we headed off through a DOC campsite and into the bush.  Following a stream for a while we started to climb up the sides of a gully, the path was marked with coloured tags in the trees but was a narrow track and was quite overgrown with Supplejack and fallen Ponga trees.  Blair was up at the front and soon shouted back that he thought we had gone the wrong way.  It was clear that we hadn’t but the path was getting very steep and he had reached a point where the path seemed to go downwards before turning back up again.  We were in a very steep gully and decided that caution was the better part of valour and turned back.  Once back down at stream level we followed the stream along to a very inviting pool – so inviting that the boys and I stripped off and dived in!  Cold but very refreshing, we made our way to the waterfall where we let the water pound our backs and floated in the bubbles.

We had a lovely time with Lorraine, Rob, Ernie and Marlene who just treated us as part of the family – they have a great setup there as they all prepare a bit of the meals each and bring it all together, eating fresh fish as they catch it.  We felt a bit awkward that we didn’t have the wherewithall to contribute as much as we felt we should have but we can hopefully make up for that in the future somehow.  I’m sure we will go back there agin and can go better prepared next time.

Brotherly Love
Brotherly Love

Back to Hamilton again – Blair and I had a bit of a job persuading Nigel to come back before the 8th (his Birthday) as Chris and Brian were coming up from Wellington for a surprise Birthday visit.  I also had the job of organising the sleeping arrangements without him suspecting anything! Blair was already in Lachlan’s room and so he was sharing with Aonghas, so we were hoping for good weather so that the boys could sleep in the tent in the garden and I brought the futon in to Aonghas’ room for Chris and Brian.  Blair was to take Nigel out of the way for the day so I could do all this!  It all worked out well because Chris and Brian arrived while they were out and so he got back to find them there and was genuinely surprised (although we had a scary moment the previous evening when Aonghas nearly gave the game away).  It was good to spend more time with Chris and Brian and get to know them better especially since Blair was here as well.  But all too soon it was time for them and Blair to go home and the house feels quite empty now we are just four again!

On top of the tower at Maungatautari
On top of the tower at Maungatautari

A few days to chill before I start my new job – the boys are booked into a tennis and golf camp next week in Cambridge – a bid to keep Lachlan off the computer and out into the open!  He has struggled with the familiar summer holiday problem of friends being around when we were away and then them being away when we are here so hasn’t been out and about as much as he had hoped.  Hoewever he has met up with some friends today and I am sure the last week of the holidays he will be able to catch up with them all again too.  Both of them are taking part ion the Weetbix tryathlon at the beginning of February and Lachlan is also competing in a Mountain bike race in mid-Feb.  We have just spent $250 on repairs to his bike after the last event which he disappointingly got more than half way through before his wheel hit a root and got bent!  We were amazed that yesterday he got up,(after spending most of the holidays doing the teenage thing of sleeping until midday!) made himself a packed lunch and was ready to set off to cycle to the Mountain bike track on his own to practise and then cycle back.  We were so impressed we said we would give him a lift since we were planning on going up that way anyay! (It is quite a long way on busy roads to get there – or are we just being too protective!)

Wow, that is a bit of a mammoth blog.  Well done if you have got all the way through it! Better stick some photos in now!

On the move!

Déjà vu!  All those boxes stacked around the room, cupboards half empty, boxes half full – yes, we are on the move again!  A bit less stressful this time for various reasons – the sun is shining and it is warm if a little windy, it is wind time down at school rather than full on preparation for Mock exams, half the boxes are still packed from last year and waiting in the garage, and we can take a few days over moving things across the city in a van rather than getting everything into a container to go half way round the world on a tight deadline!

The house we were going for a second look at lived up to expectations and we decided to take the plunge and go for it.  We agreed a price that was a little over what we wanted to pay but compromised on an early settlement date so 4 weeks from agreeing a price we move in!  The process is quite strange and very different form our experiences in the UK.  We ended up using an agent which cost us nothing – vendors pay all the costs here.   So we started off at 8pm on a Wednesday evening just 10 days ago filling in the contract and coming up with our offer price and a proposed settlement date of 12th December.  The agent then went off to the agent acting for the vendors and came back about 30 minutes later with an amended contract which rejected our offer and the settlement date!  No surprise there! Several phone calls later and much negotiation and at 11pm we agreed a price and a date for settlement!  No long drawn out negotiation period writing letters and going through agents at their convenience during office hours, all done in one evening!  Once they accepted our offer we had to meet the conditions which we had set out in the contract; namely that the sale was subject to a builder’s report, finance, the LIM report (a bit like the local authority searches in the UK) and solicitor’s approval.  We had 2 weeks to meet those conditions and at that point we go “unconditional” (that is when we pay a 10% deposit and the deal is done – if we back out we lose our deposit and things get complicated!) We have actually met all those conditions already so we have effectively gone “unconditional” though will not pay the deposit until the original “unconditional” date.  This is good for us as the money stays in our bank a little longer, but the vendors are happy because they want to sign on a rental property as soon as possible.  We get the keys at midday on  the 12th December so packing has started with a vengeance and we are all very excited!

So – what is the house like?, I hear you shout! Well, it is a three bedroomed bungalow (nearly all houses here are bungalows) with an office, a large open plan living, dining, kitchen area, one en-suite bathroom and a family bathroom, laundry, and double garage (which is generously equipped with cupboards).  Outside there is good sized decking on two sides of the living room and plenty of space all around the house.  We would have liked a bigger garden but there is enough space to eat out and grow some veg as well as space for the boys to kick a ball around.

Hamilton is great as there are parks and green spaces all over the place, and just down the road from  us there are two parks that the boys can get to safely as well as Hamilton gardens, which requires a little more effort but is still within walking/cycling distance.  Lachlan is happy as a few of his friends live nearby and he will be able to cycle to school and meet up with his mates on the way.  It is in an “up and coming” trendy area close to the river and a bustling shopping and “cafe society”! The house has a lovely light, airy feel about it and although it is behind quite a forbidding high fence, you don’t feel hemmed in  at all as the level of the inside of the house is higher than the ground level outside, so when you look out you can see over the fence.  As soon as we move in we will post some photos

We had promised ourselves a new bed once we had a house organised so have spent the last few days looking so that we can get it delivered as we move in.  We are looking at “Tempur” beds – if anyone has one and has any comments – good or bad – please let us know asap, it would be interesting to hear what your thoughts are.  We have read lots of reviews and laid on the mattresses in the shops (never very satisfactory in full view of every other shoppers and salespeople on the premises!) and think that is the way we may go but there are so  many other options too that our heads are swimming with beds!!

Apart from all that we are getting ready for Christmas!  How strange!  Summer and Christmas don’t go together in my head and although it is the end of term, it is also the end of the school year, public exams are happening and the sun is shining (okay, that’s where the similarities with the UK end!) so it doesn’t feel like Christmas is just round the corner! Yet, the shops are full of Christmassy things, the streets have Christmas decorations, there are signs advertising Christmas trees for sale, and tv adverts are constantly pushing Christmas sales especially for children.  Blair is coming out from Scotland the weekend we move and travelling with us to Wellington for Christmas with the “aunties”, and then we have no real plans but will definitely get some beach and surf time in! Looking forward to our first kiwi Christmas but will miss friends and family back in the UK too.  But we have lots to do until then so time for some beauty sleep!  Speak soon. Ciao!

We have sold the house!!!!

A belated post to let you all know – whether you wanted to or not – that we have finally completed on Mount Pleasant!  Relief tinged with some sadness, as we enjoyed our 7 years there, and it was our bricks and mortar contact with the UK.  I suppose it represented a bolthole if all went pear-shaped here, but nearly a year in and all is going well.   We sat up until just after midnight here waiting for the e-mail from the solicitor to say that contracts had been exchanged and completion achieved.  Every silver lining has a cloud though, and it seems that on that very same evening, there was some aberration in the financial world and the exchange rate – which had been moving nicely in our favour over the last three months ($2.65 to the £ in May creeping up to $2.89 to the £ late in October) – plummeted to lows not seen for ever (£2.45 to the £) !  Sod and his Law spring to mind or maybe just that lesser known Scottish Robertson curse! Fortunately the pound rallied again to $2.66 and so we shifted our money as soon as the cheque cleared in the bank!  I am sure there will be many of you who say that we should have hung on to wait for it to improve but, to be honest, we just want our money here where we have some control over it (aka spend it!!).

As a result of selling Mount Pleasant we have started house hunting with a vengeance.  As you know the house we are living in is up for auction in a couple of weeks time so we really would like to find something before Christmas.  The agent who is selling this house phoned up today to check whether he could do an Open Home on Friday and he asked how our house hunting was going and which areas were we looking in.  I replied that we were mainly looking in Hillcrest but had been starting to look a bit further afield just to see what was about. He then said that he possibly had just the property we were looking for in Fairfield Downs.  On further questioning he sheepishly admitted that it was the house our Landlords live in which they are also selling!

We have spent the last couple of weekends trawling the papers and the internet, have even been to a couple of auctions though haven’t bidded, and visited countless Open Homes.  We have also spent far too much time cleaning this house to make it spick and span for the Open Homes here every Sunday!  Yesterday, one of the agents picked us up and drove us round a heap of houses, some of them open homes, some private viewings he had arranged from a list of house we had given him.  It is really difficult to juggle/balance out all our criteria – we have seen some beautiful homes that are in the wrong place, some dreadful houses in the perfect place, some wonderful gardens with awful houses and some great houses with pitiful gardens!  Where do we compromise? Do we go for a great house with a pool and spa (Aonghas’ main criteria!) and reasonable garden which means we have to commute to work through traffic (admittedly nothing like Ingleton to Bradford) or a great house with a small garden within cycling distance of school (Lachlan’s criteria) and work?  Difficult choices to be made, and we would have preferred to have made them without the pressure of our present rental being sold under our feet.  But, hey ho! that’s the way the cookie crumbles!  There are worse choices to be made in the world!  We have seen one that we have arranged to look at again tomorrow which is a pretty strong contender, though we may walk in tomorrow and wonder why we wanted a second viewing!  It is fairly close to school and work, a light airy feel to it, a reasonable size garden, though the house is in the middle of the section rather than in one corner or at an end, which means there is no big expanse of garden. It is beautifully decorated and modernised and is a good size so it “ticks” lots of boxes.  It has a comfortable feel about it so we wll see…!  I’ll let you know next time.  Goodnight!

Labour Day Weekend

It’s Labour Day Weekend which means we have a long weekend.  We had thought about going away for a couple of nights’ camping but the weather forecast was rubbish, and we just didn’t get organised well enough to get away!  I could say that we have been too busy – which is true – but still no real excuse for not getting it together.  This last couple of weeks has seen the start of all the summer sports activities – the boys are playing tennis, cricket (Aonghas), Volleyball (Lachlan), swimming, and would like to do atheletics but we are just working out how we can fit it in! Every evening is taken care of as well as all day Sunday so there isn’t time to take a breath. I have also signed up for Swimfit along with Lachlan which is a coached swim class geared for Triathletes so it is quite strenuous but good fun, and I am playing tennis for the school staff tennis team too.  We won our first two matches so I feel a bit more confident now!  (Shoulder is giving me a bit of jip but we’ll see how it goes) Lachlan seems have to got over his broken wrist and had fun competing in a mountain bike marathon last weekend.  He is planning on doing another in February so we will have to get some practice in.  There are some cool tracks in the forest down at Rotorua so we’ll head down and have a look one weekend.

We spent today looking round at houses again.  We have finally got a completion date for Mount Pleasant so fingers crossed that all will go through soon. Our Landlords have put this house on the market so it looks like we will have to move soon.  It goes for auction on 25th November but they have to give us 42 days notice in writing.  We haven’t had that yet, so we’re just playing a waiting game and working out what to do – we’d like to leave on our terms but don’t want to be rushed into buying a house. On the other hand, nor do we really want to have to move twice in a few months! Added to that 42 days from 25th November means that we would have to pack up and move over Christmas again!! Nightmare!  So, do we find somewhere to rent now and move in the next 3 weeks (we only have to give 3 weeks notice) but then possibly be tied into a 6 month or 12 month rental agreement? Or hang on and look for something to buy and risk having a gap between having to move out of here and move in to a new house!? Dilemmas that we could do without – my head is sore with all the thinking!

The good news is that I have managed to get a job for next year, the bad news is that it is only part time, so only a part time salary which also limits what we can buy. The good news, on the other hand, is that the mortgage interest rates have come down, and the exchange rates are more favourable for us bringing money over from the UK, at least for this week!

My job is at the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls.  It will be interesting working at an all girls school – quite a change from what I am used to, but life is full of challenges!Bring it on!  I will be sad to leave Hillcrest as I have made some good friends, but I am sure we can keep in touch, and a new job gives me an opportunity to make more friends, so it is all good!

Just had some more bad news from Blighty – we have just heard that another of our caving colleagues and friends has died.  Phil Haigh died suddenly last week of a heart attack.  What a shock – he was a fit and healthy cave rescuer and SARDA dog handler, and I spent many a rescue alongside him searching on the Fells or underground.  Lots of shared experiences and banter, and our sons, Aonghas and Sam, were similar ages and went to Beavers together in Ingleton. I remember his older sons helping out down at the CRO depot making tea and hot chocolate for the troops, especially when our eldest, Lachlan, was small and I held the fort in the depot on rescues.   Our thoughts go out to Alison and the boys.

As I said, our two are busy with summer sports but also have new challenges at school.  Lachlan has to make his subject choices in the next few weeks – what will he do?  He is still keen to do Sports Development and despite not making the group last term is hoping that he can get into it this term.  He also wants to do Drama, Food Technology and Spanish to go with the compulsory Maths, Science, English, and Social Studies.  Since they can only do 6 subjects in total, one of his options will have to go, the point of contention is, which one? Aonghas has just been involved in Arts Week at school; last term they practised for their Year 4 Production, (which I think I have already written about), but this term they have been doing poetry and art, and last week was their showcase.  A big evening for the school and certainly the children had a great time performing for their parents in their class rooms and showing us their work.  As well as that Aonghas had a cool time just running around with his mates.  The highlight for him was winning the 3rd prize in the raffle – he was very excited coming home from school on Friday with his winnings in his bag – a bottle of wine, a voucher for a haircut, and $50 voucher for a meal in a local restaurant!

Any way time to go.  It is Ann’s 80th Birthday today – I have just tried to phone but there is no answer.  I guess she is probably away with David , Paul or Jonathon.  Will try again later!

Mixed Feelings

We have just heard of the death of a caving legend, Jim Eyre.  We didn’t know him well but had the honour of his company in the New Inn in Clapham,  and at Caving Club dinners, listened to him talking and read his books.  Coming hot on the heels of the death of JRat, another caving legend, and friend, and Pete, fellow Grampian member and friend, it suddenly makes life feel quite fragile.  Three different people and I suppose three different generations.  Jim passed away at the grand old age of 83 after a long, happy and eventful life, JRat succumbed to an illness we all fear I suppose, and one that too many of our friends and relatives have died from in recent years.  The result of a life of carefree living and that feeling that “it will  never happen to me” , but a life, nevertheless, that was lived to the full, on the edge and with much laughter.  Pete died doing what he enjoyed most in life but far too soon nonetheless and in some ways we probably feel most sad and shocked about his death.   The Caving community is relatively small, disparate, anarchical but pretty close knit and the sense of camaraderie and “family” is strong.  It is difficult to come to terms with friends no longer being there especially when they die in tragic circumstances but that is perhaps the nature of having been involved in an “extreme” sport for so long.  We are sorry not to be able to be there to celebrate the lives of these friends and fellow cavers but they are in our thoughts and we can at least keep up with all that is going on through regular e-mails and blog posts.   Our thoughts and best wishes go out to their families.

These sad events happen just as we make our first forays into New Zealand caving. As I mentioned in my last post, I accompanied the OE group from school on their caving weekend.  Well, we followed that up with another trip last week.  Hans, the head of PE and OE was keen to check out another cave that we could take the OE group to, so during the holidays we headed off to Waitomo with Nigel and the boys.  We managed to find someone who could tell us where the entrance to a cave called Shangri La was and off we went.  It seems that whilst many of the caves in the area are on DOC (Department of Conservation) land where there is generally open access, many are on private land.   The landowners are usually quite happy to let you access the caves as long as you ask permission as there are no real permit systems in operation. Indeed we knocked on a couple of doors and met pleasant, friendly people who were only too willing to help and point us in the right direction.

We had been shown towards an obvious sink area and after a few minutes of poking around soon found the entrance.  A muddy slope led down to a stream way which was rather squelchy – Aonghas was in danger several times of losing his wellies as the mud threatened to go over the top of them!  We picked our way through the more solid sections of it until firmer ground was reached!  We had called in at the Black Water Rafting place where we had managed to get John – our cave guide from last week – to copy the survey for us. Route finding was pretty straightforward, there were several cross passages to explore before we reached a climb down – probably free climbable but since we had an 8 year old with us and a 13 year old only 2 days out of his plaster cast we stuck a ladder  and lifeline down.  More splashy stream passage – some bits quite deep – well it was for Aonghas! – and we came across a bit that looked like we might have to crawl – in water – under boulders !  Lachlan, Hans and Aonghas went onwards as Nigel and I brought up the rear looking at some dodgy looking hanging boulders until we heard Lachlan shout back that there was no way on! I backed out and climbed up over the top to look for the way on which I duly found.  An easy climb up and across the gap for an adult, but rather wide for the boys, so we rigged a ladder and line for them.  Not a lot of belay points as we were in some quite dry passage – loose boulders covered in mud equals not very stable anchor points!  Anyway, obstacle overcome, we headed on to find that, not surprisingly, we had to go down again! Again an easily negotiated (for adults) climb down into a rift passage and then a short crawl to a muddy, vegetation strewn, ramp out to the surface.  All in all a quite a good little beginners’ cave, a bit of variety – some stream, a bit of climbing, the possiblity of exploring some side passages. The boys had a great time and we enjoyed getting our caving gear back on – even if in Nigel’s case it was a litlle tighter than the last time he wore it!!? – and getting underground again.

Spring is in the air

Well, we are officially in to Daylight saving – the clocks sprang forward this morning and last weekend was the first day of Spring.  We went along to Hamilton Gardens where there was a Hispanic theme as the Latin-American contingent of Hamilton celebrated the beginning of Spring. It was very pleasant as the drummers and strummers made their music accompanied by girating, scantily clad, nubile, young ladies!  When  the boys had had enough we ventured outside for ice creams and a refreshing beer in the sun.

The last few weeks at work have been pretty hectic – Nigel is busy writing a major report which has to be submitted this week so he is hard at it every evening collating and interpreting data, and I have been up to my ears preparing students for Practice exams, marking them and now preparing follow up work to make sure they are ready for their main exams in November.  But the boys and I now have a two week break so I can perhaps manage to catch the tail I have been chasing!

Lachlan gets his pot off tomorrow so he is looking forward to being able to scratch!  We have tried to prepare him for the likelihood of him not being able to immediately use his arm but not sure that he has really taken that on board!  Hopefully he will be able to get some physio pretty quickly – not sure how it all pans out here but I am sure we will find out soon enough!  We might even manage to fit in a day’s skiing at Mt Ruapehu if the doc says Lachlan’s wrist is up to it!

I am still buzzing from my first caving trip in NZ!  I went away with the Outdoor Ed group for a two day trip based in Waitomo (Maori name meaning Water (wai) Cave (tomo)) at the Hamilton Tomo Club base.  They had a session doing some rescue techniques at the Black Water Rafting centre, a session learning SRT, an abseiling session and then a caving trip.  It was great to get all my kit out again – that familiar feeling as I donned my gear and had a play on the SRT rig at the centre.  Walking into the cave (Gardeners Gut) just felt like coming home – what a wonderful sensation sloshing my way down a stream passage with beautiful banded limestone and a fair bit of flowstone.  We climbed up into some dry fossil passage beautifully decorated with straws, helictites, stals and columns (compulsory photograph of the tallest column in North Island but unfortunately not available as we go to press – I’ll add it as soon as I get it from the photographer!) before dropping back down to the stream and heading out.  All in good sized walking passage apart from one short section – a large lump of flowstone blocks the way on but for a low, narrow, sloping section called the “Organ Grinder”.  It is a similar sort of size to the Cheese Press in Long Churn but probably a bit more technical as it is a dog leg on a slope, so you have to keep your legs and hips up high or you slip nto the narrowest part and get stuck!  Most of us slipped through easily with encouragement and instruction from our guide John, but waiting at the end of the line and watching as everyone else goes through is quite unsettling and our last two students were pretty nervous by the time it was their turn.  Both were physically a bit bigger than the rest who were thin, skinny things but they maintained their composure and showed strength of character to get through without too much difficulty.  Alan, (aka “Brown Bear”) our second guide. had the most difficulty – whereas John holds the unofficial record of 23 seconds for sliding through, Alan took 15 minutes the last (and only) time he did it!  However with John to direct him he beat his previous attempt by 10 minutres and was a happy Bear as he rejoined the group! About a 5 hour trip altogether with a group of 8 novice cavers and a good varied introduction to NZ caves. Bring on the next cave!

Hamilton Tomo Club Hut, Waitomo
Hamilton Tomo Club Hut, Waitomo

As I already said we were staying at the Hamilton Tomo Club hut – oh, aren’t caving club huts the same the world over!!?  That same earthy smell of damp caving gear, sweaty bodies and stale food and beer! The cliquey photos of the current in-crowd and historic photos of legendary club cavers, the ubiquitous “squeeze machines” and old caving equipment festooning the walls.  Difficult though to find out where any of the caves are – there were plenty of surveys and the NZ book of surveys for both North and South Island but no grid references for the entrances and no mention of any locations in the trip logs either, even for newly discovered caves as you would find in UK hut logs (except for top secret digs!!) I sense a challenge coming on!  We WILL find some NZ caves!

On Friday afternoon we headed back to Hamilton but stopped on the way in Cambridge for a spot of Paintballing!  It was the first time I have had the pleasure of this activity and I was a little apprehensive.  However I soon got pulled into the excitement of it all and had a great time, despite taking a nasty hit to the unprotected soft part of my neck which two days later is still sore, and looks like I have been eaten by a voracious blood sucking bat!  However being on the victorious team makes up for the pain and dsicomfort! (Blacks (my team)  beat Greens (Uivel’s team) 3 games to nil – Go the Blacks! (Who said I was competitive!?)

This weekend has been fine and sunny and we have been forced into spending some money on a lawn mower to tame the rapidly sprouting lawn.  We also bit the bullet and bought some outdoor furniture – it was still just about warm enough to christen it this evening and eat outside!  Let’s hope it will be the first of many meals al fresco!

We are now busy planning for Christmas – presents need to be sent soon to arrive home in time and we are starting to plan what to do for the holidays – it does seem strange trying to plan summer activities for Christmas! Looks like we will be down in Wellington and Greytown as soon as school breaks up for NZ family Christmas and we will probably make our way back up the East coast beach hopping after that.  Will keep you posted!  A bientot!

Springtime in NZ

Well it’s the 1st September and officially the first day of Spring! No rain for a few days and the sun has been out and although the sun is warm out of the wind there is still a bite in the air. However, legs have been in evidence over the last week, shorts and jandals are back (if they were ever really put away – certainly Aonghas has continued to wear his Holeys and shorts most of the winter!). The winter season ended with Aonghas’ team’s final rugby match which they won convincingly. Aonghas finished on a high, scoring the final (and his only) try of the season and winning the ribbon for best supporting player and best try of the day! The coaches have worked really hard to boost his confidence urging the other players to pass him the ball so that he could score! All that is left of the rugby season for both boys are the presentation evenings and a march past at the Waikato V Counties Manukau game next weekend. All the junior players get to march round the stadium before the game and then get a free ticket to watch. We haven’t made it to any games yet so it will be good to see what the atmosphere is like. They haven’t been doing very well recently and only won their first match last weekend but due to the bonus points for draws, scoring more than 4 tries in a game and only losing by less than 7 points they still manage to be in the top half of the table. Let’s hope we see a good game on Sunday!

On the house front there is still no news – I guess the solicitors are busy beavering away sorting out the paperwork, fingers and toes still crossed and we have tentatively started to look at what is on the market over here again. House prices are apparently set to level out here as we go into spring and summer. There is likely to be a bit of a boost to prices in this area as people try to get their children into Hillcrest High School. The Primary school is also going to be zoned so people selling houses just round us will be able to command a higher price than elsewhere. It may well be worth us waiting another six months before we buy – but who knows? It’s all a bit of a lottery isn’t it? We are also quite tempted with being out of town a bit as we can get more land and possibly a bigger house for less money. But set that against having to drive everywhere, possibly having to have two cars and less independence for Lachlan in terms of being able to get around town with his friends. However, we haven’t seen anything yet that shouts out to be bought and we have the advantage of not needing to rush into anything. We are quite happy

Hamilton Gardens

where we are despite it feeling a bit small, but summer is on the way and we will be able to spend more time outside and less time cooped up indoors!

We managed to get out and about a bit this weekend – Aonghas is running in his school cross-country race on Friday in Hamilton Gardens so he took us to see the route he will have to run. The tree are really beautiful at the moment – I have never seen so many Magnolia trees in bloom. And so many different varieties too, I definitely want to get some for my garden when I have one! The Camellias are also lovely though have suffered from the rain – their blooms seem quite delicate and many of them have rotted in the wet. They seem to bud but then get hit by the rain and don’t quite get to open fully so the ground is just carpeted with fallen petals and whole flowers. The “Mighty Waikato” is still high and Aonghas was quite tickled by the picnic bench and trees up to their knees in water!

Magnolia
the Mighty Waikato

The sound of the birds is also amazing – as the mornings get lighter the birdsong is louder and more varied. We went to Rotorua yesterday for a look around and were just blown away by the noise and number of water birds by the lake. We had a lovely day out but it was quite chilly over there though I spent a pleasant half hour dangling my feet in a hot pool wile the boys played on the playground. (I was trying not to see Lachlan with his broken arm hanging on the climbing frame!) We treated ourselves to lunch in the Mad Dog (or was it Fat Dog, can’t remember) to celebrate 6 months over here. It was a good feed and definitely a place to recommend!

Long time, no hear!

It seems a while since I wrote anything so thought it was time to pen some thoughts. Life has been pretty hectic – work is full on at the moment, it is the middle of winter and it has been a busy term. This week was International Languages week so we were busy organising all sorts of activities to celebrate and promote language learning. Great fun but also exhausting; we made “crepes” on Tuesday for French day, Frankfurters on Wednesday, a Sumo wrestling contest on Thursday and Burritos on Friday. My colleague, Allyn who is the Spanish teacher seems to have boundless energy and ideas – despite struggling desperately with a horrendous cold, she had her students making Pinatas for all the junior form classes as well as persuading staff and students to come to school wearing “Sombreros y Bigotes”. There were some wonderful specimens; Lachlan went wearing the sombrero Nigel brought back from Mallorca and his friends provided him with a marker pen moustache ( he is still trying to wash it off!).

The weather is typically winter-ish, though apparently, this is the worst winter they have had in a decade! The drought of the summer has given way to floods of winter and the lakes that feed the hydro power are now so full that they have had to release water, which has raised the river levels and caused flooding! Some of the rugby practices and matches for Aonghas have been cancelled because the pitches are waterlogged, but poor old Lachlan has played every week in all weather conditions. The worst one was about three week’s ago when we played at a bleak, windswept town called Tokoroa. It is about an hour’s drive away from Hamilton and quite a lot higher. We were buffeted along the road by the wind, and the rain beating on the windscreen made visibility difficult, but we eventually got there, tipped the boys out of the car and then went to find a coffee! When we came back we found that the Hillcrest team was out “warming up” but no sign of the Tokoroa team. As the minutes ticked by, the wind blew harder and the rain lashed down; there was a wind chill factor of at least minus 3 degrees! The Tokoroa team emerged one by one from the changing rooms but at 15 minutes after kick off time there were still only 12 of them! By this team our boys were frozen, and we were shivering under the eaves of a very unsubstantial building, our umbrellas straining against the wind (several didn’t make it!). When the game finally started it looked like Tokoroa had called in some of their U15 players ( at least a head taller than any of our players and well developed (facial hair!)) and they ran through the Hillcrest boys to beat them convincingly. We didn’t know it but the referee had already declared that Hillcrest had won as Tokoroa didn’t have enough players and had not been on the pitch when the game was due to start. No incentive then for our boys to play to win even if they could have summoned up the energy to move since they were so cold. It was noted that Lachlan was the only one to keep on tackling and running at the opposition but that this was probably a good day by Cumbrian standards! He has certainly had plenty of experience of coping with bleak conditions – Kirkby Stephen and Penrith are pretty grim places in the middle of winter! Unfortunately, one of the boys was woefully inadequately prepared for the match – no breakfast, cotton tee-shirt, sweatshirt and rugby shirt, and at the tail end of a chest infection – and we ended up having to take him to Tokoroa hospital with mild hypothermia. Fortunately he recovered quickly once I had persuaded him to take off his wet clothes, gave him my fleeces and a hat to wear, and the hospital provided him with a hot meal! We ended up with half the team eating chips in the waiting area of the hospital before thankfully heading home. The most annoying outcome of all of this was that Tokoroa put in the scores to the league, claimed the victory and were awarded the points! The implications of this are far too complicated to narrate here but suffice it to say that it had a significant (negative) bearing on the overall outcome of our position in the league!

However, our team have played well and apart from that match have not lost until last week in the semi-final when they played Hamilton Boys High School Reds. Theoretically the same team that we beat the week before but which in fact bore no resemblance to them! Interestingly Hamilton Boys High School Black defaulted to Tokoroa on the same day in their semi-final….! A much bigger squad and definitely physically more imposing, they were aggressive and much more organised. Our boys put up a brave fight holding them to just two unconverted tries in the first half, but shortly before the end of the first half Lachlan was kicked in the wrist as he went to pick up a loose ball and he had to come off and go to hospital. In the course of the second half (information via text messages in the hospital!) four more of our players were injured (one seriously concussed and taken off to hospital in an ambulance) but only one more try conceded. A technical loss but no loss of pride!

Lachlan sporting full arm cast!

Lachlan came home sporting an impressive right angled full length cast on his arm! He has two broken bones – radius and ulna, and some damage to the growth plate. We were referred to the “bone doctor” for further assessment and there was some concern that he would have to have surgery, but the consultant decided that he would be okay. We have to go back for further x-rays on Monday and hopefully a smaller cast! As you can imagine Lachlan is pretty gutted – he had a busy sporting week scheduled with a duathlon on Tuesday, an outdoor ed taster day on Thursday and the play off for 3rd 4th place in the rugby league tomorrow, as well as volleyball training, swimming and the soccer module in PE this term. I think he has quite enjoyed the attention at school, especially from the girls but the novelty is starting to wear thin and he is certainly hoping that hewill get a lighter, smaller cast next week.

Otherwise, we are all fine apart from the usual winter coughs and snuffles, and spirits are a little higher since we had another offer on our house. The same price as we accepted before and this time we are keeping fingers and toes crossed that all will go through okay. Will let you know next post!

PS.

The boys played like superstars and beat Hamilton Boys 32 – 19 so we came 3rd in the league.  Tokoroa agreed to concede the points they had claimed so we won the round robin part of the league.  They conceded points too late for it to affect the draw for the top four play off positions so the results stand for the last two games. However we finished on a high and are looking forward to next season already!  Aonghas’ match was called off again due to bad weather so it looks like all that is left are the presentation nights. Don’t expect either of ours to get anything in the way of honours but they have played hard and done themselves proud in their first season of kiwi rugby!

Oh woe and misery!! (or it never rains but it pours) and “anyone want a house!”

Well, we have had a bit of a depressing week this week. From hope and happiness to doom and despair in a few short days!

I’ll set the scene – a promise of a whole term’s worth of salary was announced by the arrival of a payslip on Monday after several long phone calls to Payroll in Wellington the previous Friday. We should expect the money by Wednesday at the latest! Hooray! Aonghas has been patiently waiting for his Nintendo Wii (the money for which he had saved up from Birthday and Christmas) since we got here. But as we had no television and we had spent his money (dreadful parents that we are!) we said that he would have to wait. The television problem was solved when his friend Hong’s Mum and Dad lent us their old one but we still had no money! We promised him that we would buy it when I got paid which we thought would have happened weeks ago!! So he was very excited when it looked like he would be able to have his Wii this week for the holidays. Not so! No money on Monday, no money on Tuesday, checked the bank account just about every hour but still no money on Wednesday! On Thursday I phoned Payroll who said that the money had gone from there and should be in my account, so they suggested I phone school. On phoning them and checking my payslip more carefully we found that the account number was wrong by one digit – so my money was somewhere in the ether – possibly in someone else’s account! Several frantic phone calls later by the wonderful accounts staff at school to Wellington and I now have a promise that the money will be in MY account by the end of today. I won’t hold my breath!! Just keep checking the account….

We have spent a few pleasant mornings in the museum this week keeping busy and being entertained. What’s wrong with that, I hear you say? Well, nothing really except when you come out and go back to the car to find that someone has got into it and stolen all your CDs! No apparent sign of forced entry (I had checked that it was locked before leaving it but as it has central locking I only checked the drivers door trusting that the central locking worked), and fortunately no damage to the car. They also took the registration documents and the insurance details from the glove compartment. What else was in there I don’t know – my sunglasses, and other bits of junk. My guess is they just tipped the contents of the glove compartment in a bag and ran. Not sure if it is worth making a claim but when you count up the cost o 20 or so CDs you suddenly realise that that is quite a lot of money. Had to phone the insurers to ask them to send out a new policy document so will see what our excess is and work out whether it is worth claiming.  Spent the next hour at the police station reporting the theft and getting the car brushed for fingerprints.  Nothing positive came up so I’m guessing it’ll just be another one to put down to experience!

As I have already blogged we have spent the last couple of weekends getting excited about looking at houses and even found one we think we could put an offer in for once our sale comes through. But – yes, you’ve guessed it! Six weeks after making an offer our buyer has pulled out – SIX WEEKS!! He claims it is because builders reports state that there is too much work to do. However he had builders round there BEFORE he put in his offer. We know that because in the course of doing that he switched the water on, left it on and as a result caused a leak which luckily our friends found when they went to open the windows to air the house. It resulted in our friends having to fit a new water tank and clean up all the mess. It also caused our next door neighbours problems, but I won’t go into that as it is far too complicated! We suspect that he has had problems getting a mortgage and is using building repairs as an excuse. He was already getting the house for considerably less than the market value even given the depressed state of the market. How can he decide now after 4 or 5 months (he first viewed it back in Feb.March) that it is not what he wants? Grrrr! VERY frustrating! Okay, rant over ….

So if anyone out there knows of anyone who wants a substantial Victorian family home in Ingleton North Yorkshire please make us an offer. (3 bedrooms, large living kitchen, large living room, copious amount of boarded out, dry cellar space, mature garden (probably quite overgrown by now but it is lovely underneth!!), 2 garden sheds, outdoor ex-toilet now shed! Off road parking. It is the former mine manager’s house from when Ingleton was a thriving mining village. The three cellars are dry, centrally heated, and used by us as a children’s play room, a study and a storage area for all our caving, climbing, camping, walking gear so there is plenty of space! The kitchen is the hub of the house – we unearthed a big hearth and stone lintel before we left but had no time to do anything with it so there is scope to devlop that. But the kitchen is big enough for a large dining table so we spent most of our time in there! The sun pours in in the afternoon and late evening making it a really sunny spot to be. The living room is the same size as the kitchen and again the light comes in afternoons and evenings. Upstairs there are three bedrooms and a bathroom, the master bedroom has fully fitted wardrobes. All looking a bit sad now that no one has been living there for six months so it desperately needs a happy family to keep it company again! We look forward to being inundated with offers!!

Mount Pleasant - front door
Mount Pleasant - front door
Mount Pleasant, Ingleton

Mount Pleasant - garden
Mount Pleasant - garden Mount Pleasant -doorway