Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend in Auckland


After our big trip to Rotorua last week, we were too scared – oops, tired – to take the kids on another long drive, and decided to get to know our new city a bit better instead.

First stop was Otara market, New Zealand’s largest street market. Despite's C's protests: "I don't wanna go to a fly shop" (he meant flea market!), we packed the kids into the car.

Back in Brisbane, the Husband and I regularly haunted the local farmer’s markets, particularly the one at Rocklea. I love buying really fresh fruit, vegies, seafood and bread, all so much nicer than those at the supermarket and at a fraction of the cost.

We’d get up early, grab a coffee and breakfast at the markets, and have our shopping over nice and early. The kids, grudgingly, grew to like the tradition, particularly the breakfasts – usually a bacon and egg wrap for C, and pancakes for the Princess.

But I haven’t found any similar in Auckland – yet.

Otara was huge and we probably didn’t even see all of it (mainly because the kids through a wobbly half-way through. H. hated all the hustle and bustle and promptly demanded to be ‘luppied’, and C. couldn’t stand still because he wanted to buy everything he saw – and couldn’t, because of a distinct lack of pocket money.(We’re trying to be a bit stricter with the kids, and not give in and buy them something whenever they crook their little fingers but encourage them to save up for things they want instead. But that’s another story).

Anyway, Otara is huge. Pacific Island, Maori, Asian and Pakeha stallholders display everything from traditional tapa cloth and artwork, to funky t-shirts and babywear. And it’s a great spot for cheap toys, shoes, bikes and skateboards (hence Chase’s consternation!) We didn’t splash out on this occasion, but something tells me Santa’s going to be making a toy-buying expedition later in the year…

Foodwise, there’s Indian, Chinese, Cook Island, even Hangi meals on offer. I tried a breakfast souvlaki, because everyone else seemed to be having one too. It turned out to be a huge piece of fried bread containing steak, lamb, egg, salad, garlic and chilli, all for $7. I’m not sure I’d order it again (I don’t think my waistline could afford it), but it was tasty – and very messy! After about 15 minutes of shopping, K. obligigingly pointed out there was still sauce around my mouth…(Men. You can't live with them.)

Anyway, there was a fruit and vegie section there too, and for the first time since arriving here, we saw prices for fresh produce approaching those we’re used to paying at home. Tomatoes for $3.99 a kilo (we’ve been paying $9.99 in the shops), apples for 99c/kg (compared with $3.99), lettuce $1.50 instead of $4, oranges, bananas, potatoes, and more, all at prices that appealed to the penny-pincher in me. Not surprisingly, we’ve had to watch the budget when shopping for fresh foods, so it was great to stock up without breaking the bank!

The rest of the day turned into a rainy Auckland afternoon, so K. and the Princess joined the local DVD store while the Dude and I hung out for a while, and we settled back and watched a few movies with the kids. With all the stress of packing, moving, and unpacking again, it was the most relaxed we’ve been in a long time.

Luckily, Sunday was a sunshiney day again, and we crossed the bridge to Devonport. It’s a gorgeous seaside village, framed by extinct volanoes, and boasts awesome views of Auckland and beyond.

There are loads of quaint book and art shops to explore (and we had intended to buy some presents for loved ones back home until we saw the price tags – sorry!)

We joined the crowd at a bustling café for an expensive, but yummy breakfast. Chase enjoyed his first fluffie – the Kiwi word for babycino – much to his amusement. (I don't need to remind Aussie readers what a fluff is!)

What I love about Auckland is how dog-friendly it is. Just about everyone sitting at the outside tables had a dog, all of them sitting patiently and adoringly next to their owners. Of course, our kids loved that and wasted no time making friends with everyone and their furry friends. (Okay, I loved it too!) I was worried the kids might be bothering people and stepped in, but no, everyone was welcoming, assured me they were fine, and encouraged the kids to pet and play with their pups. “What delightful kuds,” we were told more than once (to our surprise – and delight!)

After brunch, we took the kids for a long walk along the beach, and let them explore the rock pools and collect shells for a while. Of course, it was way too cold to swim, but they didn't seem to mind.

That afternoon, I took the kids for a play at the park across from where we live.

Coming from the Brisbane suburbs, I was really worried about not having a backyard (frontyard in our case) for the kids to play in, and all the trappings like trampoline and swing-set, which had to be sold prior to our move. But we’re lucky that there is a park so close, and we have a pool and spa here, so we’re really not missing it that much. Kyle in particular, is not missing spending his weekends mowing or cleaning the pool!

And we’re all keeping much more active, myself included, so that's got to be good.

We miss everyone at home, but today, Monday, our phone was finally connected! We’re on a great plan for phone calls to Aussie, so look forward to some long chats soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rotorua - Where No One Can Smell Your Fart




We’re back from our first weekend away in New Zealand.

With science-mad kids, we decided our first overnighter should be Rotorua, about a 3 ½ drive from Auckland.

We had the kids breakfasted and dressed and were on the road early. Even so, by our first petrol stop, less than an hour into the trip, C. and H. were both starving! Husband, in his wisdom, had banned eating in the car (mind you after seeing the mess the kids had made in my old car before we sold it, for good reason). But that meant I hadn’t packed any snacks. And I had to admit to needing a coffee.

And so we found ourselves queuing for nearly 25 minutes at the service station café, for what is possibly the worst coffee I have ever tasted in my life (and that’s from someone who has spent a lot of time in country Australia). Next time I’ll remember to pack a flask.

The kids were happy with their haul though – juice and brownies – especially as we broke the rules to allow them to snack as we drove to save time.

Cambridge was the next stop, where we literally spent a penny (actually it was 50 cents each) to use the loos. A farmer’s market was on nearby, so the kids picked up a bag of organic apples and juice for the journey.
Finally we made it to Rotorua, where the first sights of steam rising from cracks in the ground prompted cries of excitement (from the adults as well as the kids).

We stopped at a local park, where the kids excitedly checked out a few hot springs, while complaining about the smell. We’d been warned about ‘stinky’ Rotorua, but were still overwhelmed by “The Stench” as C. called it. Still, there was a bright side. “Now we can fart and you won’t know if it’s us or the hot springs”, he announced excitedly. H. lost no time in testing out the theory!

We snacked on yummy roti and samosas made by local Maoris for lunch, before checking out our hotel. I’d booked an internet special online, and after reading a few trip advisor reviews (after instead of before the booking), I was a bit worried about what we’d find. But the Hotel Sudima was fine. Sure they lost our booking, but they found it again; and our room wasn’t ready on arrival, but they gave us a key to the pool and loads of towels so we could go for a swim in their thermatically heated pool.

It was divine! Even warmer than the hydrotherapy pool I used in Brisbane for my arthritis exercises.

For $129 a night for all of us, including breakfast, you couldn’t really ask for more … even though the Rotorua smell somehow followed us everywhere.

We walked around the lake, napped, and enjoyed hot spas in the afternoon, before heading to a Maori show and hangi that evening. It was touristy, but fun, and the kids were spellbound.

We all enjoyed the hangi, and later, the Princess joined me on stage for a poi dance, while the big and little men got to do the Haka.

Next morning, we visited the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal wonderland. Billed as New Zealand’s most diverse area of geothermal activity, it’s a bit like visiting the Land That Time Forgot.

Steam rises from eerily coloured pools and vents, mud gurgles and plops, steam vents hiss, and cavernous craters dot the land.

It’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever been – up there with unforgettable must-sees like the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls – and of course, the kids loved it. Even the Princess forgot to ask to be ‘luppied’, so entranced was she by the sights and sounds (and even the offensive smells).

The Little Dude was taken by the names of some of the attractions: the Devi’s Home, Devil’s Bath, and the Infernal Crater, to name a few.

And they both loved the eruption (induced by soapflakes) of the Lady Knox Geyser, which soaked them both as it erupted about 20 metres up into the air.

We would have loved to have stayed longer at Rotorua (and I for one, would love to return to try the world-famous Polynesian Spa – girls’ weekend anyone?), but reality beckoned.

As well as a busy week at work for K., the kids have an art night, barbecue and concert at school this week. And with our internet and phone set to be connected any day now, I’m back at work soon too.

It’s hard to believe we’re only starting our fourth week in Auckland, but it’s already starting to feel a lot like home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tele-miscommunications

Enjoying city live - and a spot of Japanese



I haven’t been able to blog for a while because, quite frankly, telephone companies in NZ suck.

We organised for our phone and internet to be connect nearly a week ago - and we're still waiting.

An initial 1-5 business days, became 3-10. Every time we phoned, we were told something else. Finally today, we’ve been told we won’t have internet or phone until the middle of next week. Which means, another week off work for me. And surprise, surprise, I'm not happy about it.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve kind of needed me at home, sorting out car ownership, insurance, supervising moving men, unpacking, supervising fix-it men, picking up and dropping off kids, dropping off Husband to work (though he walks home if it’s not raining) and the rest. But I’d commited to starting back again with one of my Aussie magazines last week, and the delay probably annoys them no end.

At least moving day went well, though we found half (okay, a few) of the things in our townhouse were broken or missing – little things like sink plugs, dishwashers and a grill for the oven. Worse, the place was infested with FLEAS! (The previous tenants had a cat apparently…)

All is being dealt with, but you can imagine the reaction of the rugrats. And the first itchy night at home.

The townhouse is spread over six levels, which sounds grand until you realise there is only a room or two per level (and that includes the basement storage area, or dungeon as we like to call it).

Unfortunately, the many narrow flights of stairs meant that even our burly removal guys couldn’t manage to get the fridge into the kitchen. And so it is downstairs in the office! We’re managing though. We may get a small fridge for the kitchen if and when we get more financial/get too annoyed with having to climb the stairs everytime we need milk for tea/coffee. (Oh okay, every time I feel like a cold glass of chardy…)

In spite of all that, we are enjoying our taste of city life. We can walk to the supermarket, Husband can walk home if he’s feeling energetic, and the kids are loving the pool and spa. The pool, while heated, is still a bit cool for me, and I’m still feeling too sick to exercise. To be honest, just climbing the umpteen flights of stairs each day, leaves me breathless and is more than enough exercise. That’s right, my pneumonia has come back again! I managed to find a doctor who would take on a new patient and he’s fixed me up with a load of drugs, so hopefully I’ll come good soon and be able to stay up later than 7.30pm! Doc said Auckland is notorious for chest troubles, and as mine was a bit dodgy to start with, I probably got in early.

In spite of a few itchy nights, we are sleeping well in our own beds. The Princess's room has a view of the SkyTower, while the Little Dude's is bigger. Both are pretty impressed. It was funny hearing them – particularly H. – renewing friendships with their toys. “Oh hippo/lion/pony/whatever, I’ve missed you so much!” she would say, kissing them each one by one and laying them reverently on her bed.

We’re still not completely unpacked, but we are getting there.

Mind you, we could have done without the visit from the quarantine/customs guys, who got all concerned when they found red back spiders - and a few eggs - in K. and C.'s bikes, despite K's efforts in cleaning them prior to the move.

Unfortunately, the bikes have to be sent off to be specially cleaned - at a cost of $250! When we told them the bikes probably weren't even worth $250, we were then invited to pay $600 to have them disposed of (the bikes, not the spiders).

I feel the need for a nice cold chardy coming on. If only it wasn't for all those stairs...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Out and about



Moving on ... almost

Time for some sightseeing

The past few days we’ve been busy trying to set up internet, phone, mobile phone, and electricity for our new place. It all seems so complicated compared to home. Apart from the cost – there are no really cheap deals like we’re used to, and it’s plus-plus for every little inclusion – everything except the electricity takes so long to get organised.
As for insurance … we’re being charged about 40 per cent extra for car insurance because we only have Aussie licences (even though it’s not a requirement to have an NZ licence for a year). Scary!
And our quote for health insurance was nearly $400 – per MONTH. And that doesn’t include pre-existing conditions like Kyle’s diabetes and my arthritis. The fact that we’ve had private health in Australia where these have been covered doesn’t mean a thing. So I’ll have to do some more hunting there – with kids, I like to know they are covered.
Apart from all that, we’re enjoying it here. Kyle loves his work, the kids have declared school is 'sweet', and I’m enjoying the scenery, the people and the food (oh okay, and the wine as well). The supermarkets seem a lot more English – loads of choices for things like cheeses, fish, breads and fruit and vegies. The kids are fascinated by the huge mussel displays - Chase wanted to know if he could take one home as a pet!
There seems to be a sushi place and Starbucks on every corner, (not that I will drink there, coffee snob that I am), and the kids get Subway (among other lunch choices) at school.
Our things have gone through customs, and are moved into our apartment on Monday. We still have a customs officer coming to our townhouse in the afternoon to open a couple of boxes they want to inspect – mainly stuff like the bikes etc. I'm not really looking forward to that, especially as we worked out today our fridge is probably not going to make it up the stairs to our kitchen. And I'm not convinced our washing machine will fit where it's supposed to either. Details, details...
I'm looking forward to unpacking all our stuff and having a bit more space (and Harmonie can't wait to befriend all her stuffed toys - that is the one she didn't stuff into her suitcase and carry-on).
There are a few things I'll miss about our hotel though ... mainly the cleaning fairies, who even empty the dishwasher and do the washing-up if I forget to do it before rushing out the door.
I won't miss the whistling/shouting/fighting/hooning drunks at night though. Sometimes it goes on until 5.30 am.
And because this post has been pretty boring, here are a few more things (apart from dub-dub-dub) that have been making me smile in Auckland:

Shopping trolleys are called Trundles!
An anti-littering campaign tells smokers to “Put Your Butt In The Bin”
Thongs are called Jandals
Aucklanders say 'wee' a lot. As in: "Would you like a wee break?" (Not the way I use it. As in: "Do you want a wee?" to the kids every time we go somewhere.
They call babycinos "fluffies". Okay what's up with that?

Until next time ...
Bron x

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Do you want fries with that?

In a move that would enrage health-conscious Aussies, McDonalds in New Zealand are now offering 10c off a litre of petrol with every Big Mac ‘Fuel-Up’ combo. The discount would normally cost supermarket shoppers $100 … but now hungry Kiwis only have to shell out $9.50 to get a Big Mac, Medium fries, Medium drink, and hot apple pie to save money at the bowser. Err, don't think they'll be saving any calories though....

Schools and the Skytower

I'm flying...



We finally found a school for the kids today.
With a view of the Sky Tower, and resident pidgeons instead of the crows and magpies we are used to in Oz, the kids don't wear uniforms and call the teachers by their first names.
Staff seem friendly and happy, which is always a good sign. And imagine our surprise when S, the principal, says the kids can start tomorrow!
I don’t think the kids are too impressed, but I think it’s a good idea. (And not just because I fancy some quiet time!) Little Man has been complaining he’s ready to go back to school, and it will give me some sanity time to do things like arranging phone, insurance etc without kids fighting in the background and/or raiding the lolly/biscuit supply. They’ll have two weeks before a two-week holiday, so it should give them time to settle in and get used to the idea – and for the teachers to gauge whether they are in the right classes.
Enjoying the view - and the ice-blocks

The Princess will be in Grade 1 here, instead of Prep, and Little Man will be in Grade 3 instead of 2 – so I hope they manage okay.
Afterwards, because it’s the last day of ‘freedom’ so to speak, I asked the kids what they wanted to do, and they were unanimous: Skytower!
We parked at our apartment and walked to the tower, and spent several happy hours there. It’s pretty cool, and I had no need to worry they would be scared of the glass-doored and floored lift, or heights. They both took delight on splaying themselves across the glass floors while I felt queasy.
Our townhouse complex from the Skytower
I calmed the nerves with a medicinal glass of wine while the kids slurped on ice-blocks, and we watched several more hardy souls plummet to the ground off the tower. Little Man immediately wanted to have a turn, but I explained he would
have to grow and age before he’d be able to do it himself!

Puzzle Dude

Matakana market


Today, after a tip-off from one of Husband's new colleagues, we took the car on a run out of Auckland. Over the bridge – scenic in itself – we found ourselves travelling through the most breathtaking environment.
Rolling hills, tree ferns, bubbling streams, and because it is spring, the most gorgeous newborn lambs, calves and goats. Not to mention, breathtaking beaches.
Soon, we arrived at Matakana markets. Unlike the farmer’s markets we are used to, these were very small, yet charming (and busy). Hardly any fruit; things like chocolate, beer, wine and meats. Husband literally drooled at the local butcher shop, but without an esky or proper cooking facilities, we had to go without. But the kids managed a couple of bargains at a used toy stall. With our belongings taking longer and longer to arrive, they needed a few comforts to help them feel at home. The Princess nabbed a My Little Pony storybook and pirate game; Little Man grabbed a teddy and Hot Wheels game.
Husband splurged on a pair of stainless steel earrings for lucky me, made and sold by the artist herself. She couldn’t believe it when he said we’d take them – think we were her first sale all day! Later we were told that Kiwis have a reputation for being ‘tight’ – so most people probably um and ahh for ages.
The kids tuck in ...
In the afternoon, after a nap, the kids and I wandered into the CBD to finish off secret Father’s Day shopping.
On the way they nibbled at Donut Dude – this time Donut Dudette. And on the way home, Little Man talked me into a brief foray into the market.
There’s a guy there, whom the kids have dubbed
Puzzle Dude. He has a stall selling loads of puzzles aimed at kids, and grown-ups. I don’t know his name, but if you’re at Aotea Square on a Friday or Saturday, you must visit him. He’s the guy where dozens of big and little kids try their hands at solving puzzles.
“Don’t touch,” I said, as the Princess’s busy fingers reached for a nail and began banging it into a puzzle with a part of another puzzle.
“Excuse me, it’s fine if you don’t want her to do it,” Puzzle Dude interrupted. “But if you’re okay with it, she’s welcome to touch. That’s the idea, it’s engaging kids and getting them to learn through play.”
Anyway, with his permission, the L. Man managed to solve one of the adult puzzles very quickly. The guy said if the L.Man could do it again, he’d give him a puzzle. So Little Man did. I couldn’t believe it when the man gave C. a small version of the puzzle, and refused any money.
“I won’t take a cent from you,” he said. “The little bloke deserves it!”
It seems like in NZ you CAN get something for nothing.

Cars, house hunting and Donut Dude

Mmmm ....donuts!

After a busy few days hunting for cars and houses (and we've now found both) we were able to relax a bit and take a better look at our new city.
There has been a Pan Pacific gathering in Auckland this week, with most of the delegates staying at our hotel. This has meant loads of interesting encounters, and plenty of indulgence towards the kids. And probably people mean well, but it just encourages the kids, really
Anyway, this morning the kids were treated like celebrities when we arrived in the foyer. Fijian, Raratongan and other delegates, were taken by the Princess’s blonde curly hair, and the Little Man’s reddish-blonde hair. They insisted on loads of photos and even dragged me into a few! I tell you, it took us ages to get through the foyer, though the kids loved the attention. One woman even gave the Princess a beaded ring as a present, much to her delight!
Afterwards, we had our first experience of Auckland’s changeable weather. I took kids off to the park, while Husband went to morning tea at work. We spent a pleasant 40 mins or so there – kids making instant friends as they do, a shirt-less dero joining us for a few scary minutes (as they apparently do, here). We basked in the sun at the playground, then walked down to a nearby market. Kids spent some of their pocket money, then I realised the sunny skies had clouded over.
“Quick kids, we better get back before it rains,” I said, as giant-sized raindrops began pelting us in the head.
Luckily we were only a few blocks away! We soon found out the rain is cold here – not warm like in Brisbane.
We completed arrangements for the rental (and coughed up a small fortune for the privilege to do so).
In the meantime, we needed a bank cheque. Imagine our pleasant surprise, when we found out the cheque was free – “It’s your money, so you can use it the way you like” the teller said.
Even better, the bank had free interactive TV games for the kids to play while it was organised. If we’d been waiting for an appointment, we could even have enjoyed a cup of coffee or tea on them. I like the way NZ banks treat their customers!
Later, I nervously took the wheel of the new car, to follow Husband who was dropping off our rental. All went well, until my GPS took me to the wrong place. K, in the rental car, had no idea where I was and he’d left his mobile in our new car, so we had no way of knowing where each other was … luckily our ESP kicked in and we managed to find each other, but not after a few stressful moments.
We strolled around a market at nearby Aotea Square that evening, before finishing the night with another Asian meal. That night, the kids discovered Donut Dude - a long-haired, tattoed, bikie-type guy who apparently serves up the best donuts in the world from his little caravan.

We're here!

The Princess and the Little Man (watching telly) at Qantas Club...our last taste of Brisbane for a while


Yes, we've arrived safe and well. The flight was delightful (not) with me stuck with the two ruggies, while Husband played ‘gentlemen’ behind us.
Highlights were:
The Princess breaking a glass in Qantas Club (however, she wasn't alone. A lady nearby, enjoying a champagne breakfast (no, it wasn't me!) managed to do the same thing).
Kids fighting over the window seat.
Kids unable to see the TV due to glare, therefore arguing and bickering constantly - mostly over the window seat.
Kids wanting to go to the loo urgently, just when we were trapped by our meals.
Both kids bawling as we approached NZ because of ear pain.
We made it through customs in one piece, and M, Husband's new boss was there to meet us. Harmonie got off to a good start by calling him a ‘funny man’. The Little Man was so tired he fell asleep on the way to our apartment. "I'm not tired, it's just the wind hurts my eyes," he insisted. The apartment is quite roomy, and right in the city, but unremarkable apart from that. Comfy beds which is the main thing.
We dumped our stuff, and dragged our complaining kids to the bank so we could open an account and get access to our money. One minute late we were, and the bank was closed. So was the ATM. The next one refused to give us any. Finally, third time lucky, we got some funds – so we’d get to eat after all!
Despite repeated attempts on both computers, we're unable to connect to the net in our room. Staff can't explain why, so we'll have only sporadic access as we'll have to physically go to reception to get onto the net.
First night was delightful, with both kids bawling because they wanted McDonalds and we refused. The Little Man claimed it was the worst day of his life!
We found a nice Japanese restaurant. C. complained that there was nothing there he would eat, then polished off two pieces of salmon sushi, some fish, miso soup, and boiled rice. The Princess ate only boiled rice, but at least it was something other than junk food.
It was lovely food and very cheap compared to home.
The city is really noisy – the apartment doesn’t have extra glazing like we’re used to in Oz. Seem to be a lot of drunks and druggies around too, so we fit in well (only joking Mum)! C. narrowly avoided walking into some spew outside a theatre, and it was only 6 pm at night!
Opened our bank account this morning. Staff were really nice and relaxed, and gave the kids two elephant money boxes, which impressed them no end. People seem to be kind to the kids. One real estate agent even gave them lollies!
We’re finding it slow to do anything here – everyone seems to be laidback and relaxed. whereas we’re in a massive rush to get everything done. K. starts work on Monday and will be on a flight and overnight trip to Christchurch the next day.
We can’t get access to our funds until Friday, so we can’t buy a car until then either. We’ll probably hire one, as we’re due to check out some rentals this afternoon.
Walked to the harbour and wandered around the city for a while this morning. I don’t mind the walking, but I’m over the carrying – Her Highness insists on being “luppied” every five minutes, because her legs aren’t used to walking. Or so she says!
The kids are anxious to start school, and to be honest, I’m quite anxious for them to start. Two kids in a city apartment aren’t really a good recipe for peace and harmony. Or C. and H. for that matter!