Last Sunday morning, the sunshine felt like rain.
Week before, they all seemed the same.
With the help of God and true friends, I come to realize,
I still had two strong legs, and even wings to fly.

Greg & Duane Allman, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, One Way Out (Live from the Beacon), way back when

Day Two Hundred and Four January 8th

It’s raining again.  I am sure the Blue Mountain’s have much to offer but in the rain and cold it is hard to recognize the appeal.  The place should be rocking with summer in full swing but honestly it feels more like a shoulder season back home.  Kind of like a mountain town in the off-season, no snow or sunshine.

We press on and head to the Jenolan Caves.  This is an entire network of limestone caves with a bunch of different tours ranging in degree of difficulty and time spent underground.  We opt for an easy hour.  

Our tour is a favorite with families so all of the kids end up in a big pack up front leading the way around dark corners and passageways.  Water drips from overhead and the place is damp and cold.  Luckily we remembered our jackets.  

There is an underground river flowing beside us.  Hearing the sound of running water while you are hiking along underground is freaky.  It helps shape the feeling of being hemmed in and adds another layer to the claustrophobia.  I cannot image being lost or trapped down here. It is a good feeling to come back to the surface.
Adele and Vince bond with the kids of another family and we all end up hiking down stream together after we emerge back into daylight. 

“SNAKE! SNAKE!” comes a shout from the group of kids standing by the waters edge.
A flash of red and black slithers by.  The kids scatter.
The kids we are with are from a sheep farm a few hours away and are well trained in snake spotting.  They immediately alert everyone and run in the other direction of the snake.  It is amazing to see their composure under pressure.

The snake slithers right beside Vinny’s feet.  I flash back to his discussion about Bear  Grills from Man vs. Wild hitting snakes with sticks.  Adele is by our side in a flash.
“COLOR?” shouts the dad.
“RED AND BLACK, VERY LONG!” shouts the nine year old.
“MOVE AWAY! EVERYONE BACK AWAY! KEEP CLEAR!” shouts the dad as he looks for a stick.  “NO WORRIES! THEY ARE AGGRESSIVE THOUGH, BEST TO MOVE AWAY!” Sorry, did he say they are aggressive?

It was poisonous but apparently not strong enough to kill us.  Thankfully it slithered off without interest.

“So, do you do a lot of bull riding then in California?” 
“Bull riding?  Ah no, not much bull riding in our neck of the woods.”
“Oh, too bad that, what do the cowboys do then?”
He looks concerned. “Your kids are well trained dealing with snakes.”
“Have them on the farm, need to be, don’t want to lose anyone.”
This is a very different world. 

After an hour or so we head back to town to pick up our clean laundry (always a treat) and go for a short hike around the grounds.  Thoughts of the snake loom in the background and everyone stays on the trail.  

We are perched high atop a rock cliff face overlooking a beautiful valley below.  We try and make echoes for a while and watch the birds circling overhead.  The trail runs along the ridge for a bit before heading back towards the house, dropping us at the bocce court.  

Actually it is just a muddy, sandy square.  The kids and I play a few rounds in the rain before heading back to the cabin.  Once there we settle in for a hot meal, the evening fire and books before bed.

A thought:  it is best to stay in places for travelers not tourists.  It’s a much better learning experience.  Travelers look forward to experiencing a cabin in the woods powered by solar panels with energy input/output monitors and a wood burning stove.  They don’t feel the need to wash linens everyday in places like this and are content that cleaning services are minimal.  We found this place in the Greenwood Guide, an excellent resource for home stays and other interesting places to hang your hat.   After seven months on the road we are travelers.  Now if they can just figure out the Internet connection and stop the rain we may never leave.  Adele is already designing her one room dream house in Jackson Hole using solar panels and indoor non-flush (read pit) toilets.  

Day Two Hundred and Five January 9th

Can it rain any harder?  It sounds like someone is throwing gravel on the roof.  Corrugated steal panels are not the quietest in rough weather.  No worries though, tonight we will be in Heavenly Beds at the Westin in Auckland.

It’s a travel day with a quick stop in Leura, one of the many small towns here in the “Blues” for lunch, a walk around in the rain and the discovery of a great little art gallery.  We try and go to see a famous overlook but it is so foggy and raining so hard that it is pointless.  We shoot a quick blog video for fun and move on.  

Our late afternoon flight has us landing in Auckland around midnight.  The airport is empty for the most part and coming through immigration is a breeze.  It feels good to be here.  I only wish it was earlier so we could all celebrate.  This is the transition to and the first night of the second leg of our journey.

Welcome to New Zealand.

Day Two Hundred and Six January 10th 

So where is everyone?  The hotel feels like some strange foreign movie.  It is beautiful: kind of an Asia meets the ocean style, very sleek with wood, stones and water everywhere.  But not one else is here.  Granted it is after 10a when we all finally get moving but you would think someone else would be kicking around.  Not a soul.  It takes some getting used to.

Stepping outside into the sunshine onto a wooden dock that wraps a harbor you begin to get a sense of the openness here in NZ.  There are four million people TOTAL, that is about half of LA.  Over 1M are here in Auckland though I cannot for the life of me figure out where they are all hiding.  Roughly 3M people are on the north island, 1M on the south.  Nelson is going to be a trip.

We spend the day in the “city” taking care of logistics.  The visas we got last night are good for three months.  We still need to go to immigration to file for our nine-month family visitor visa and Adele’s student visa.  It takes a while to get our photos, make copies of the paper work and find the immigration office. 

Most of the afternoon is spent “back to school” shopping for kids stuff.  There are two main streets here and the wharf front.  You can walk the enter area in twenty minutes.  The people appear to be mostly local with a few tourists here and there.  The first impression is that there is plenty of room.  The streets are wide, buildings just a few stories high for the most part, and the skyline feels open and inviting.  You want to slow down, there appears to be no reason to hurry.

We catch dinner at a good Thai restaurant on the way back to the hotel.  We are all weary from traveling and the rush that comes with arrivals in new countries.

When we get back to the hotel and get the kids to bed I check the Google headlines to learn that they are sending “more venom to Queensland.”  Why?  Because the floods are so high and the damage so widespread that the snakes have been driven out of their homes and out into the open where they are swimming around searching for dry land (and food).  The issue?  So are all of the people.  And with just a few small pieces of dry land available the mix of highly poisonous snakes and shell-shocked people is making for a very bad combination.  They need more venom to use as for the antidote shot to keep people from dying from snakebites.

On top of that, the second part of the headline lets us all know to watch out for the “Salties.”  These are the massive saltwater crocs that can survive in both fresh and salt water.  Apparently they too are homeless and hungry.   With water everywhere their dining options have improved significantly and they are on the prowl.

Can you even imagine?

Day Two Hundred and Eleven January 11th

Vince is unbelievable loud.  He has been for a while now to the point where we are a bit concerned that he may have a hearing problem.  So now that we are in a big town for a few days we tracked down a hearing clinic to get him checked out.  He heads out with Teri to take the bus (very exciting when you are four) to go to the doctor (even more exciting that the bus).

Adele and I grab breakfast across the street.  We get into a conversation with the people working at the café and it turns out that we have hit a down week with the New Years holiday.  Apparently they have been slow since mid-December and will be until the end of January because “it takes a while for people to gear up to come back to work.”   It takes a while?  Don’t they have to come back? “Eventually,” she explains, “things are pretty mellow here, no one is in a real hurry.”  But don’t the companies expect them to show up? “Yeah they have to at some point, but there’s a lot going on in, I mean the beach has been great this year.”  Unbelievable.

Adele and I go to the hotel pool so swim a few laps and hang in the hot tub.  We don’t even see another guest.  Its sort of sad and kind of creepy, like they built the place for a big party and no one showed, so much effort wasted.

Adele is very focused on Hobbits.  Apparently they are going to start filming the Hobbit here in NZ in the next few months and she is convinced that we may be able to get walk on parts.  You never know.

We all meet up for lunch.  According to the clinic Vince has perfect hearing: he’s just loud and four years old and a boy.  It must be the Green Day.  

We all manage to reconnect and grab a bit before Adele and I head over to the Sailing Museum on the pier and Vince and Teri head off for a pool swim.  The museum is great fun, though a bit odd in that it is tucked away off the main drag and accessed through a 2011 Rugby World Cup souvenir shop.  

They are very serious about this rugby world cup thing.  Apparently teams from all over the world had to qualify to get an invite to the big dance held here in NZ this September.  The literature and signage says that USA has a team but I can’t find any of our jerseys for sale.  Thought I would get one and wear the colors.  The States are funny that way.  We have so many people that we can produce a world-class team in a sport that no one in America cares about or will ever see.  I am sure it all comes back to ESPN and the world broadcast rights.  Sure, we will broadcast the thing around the world as long as our boys have a seat at the table, or something like that.
When we do finally find the entrance the sailing museum turns out to be a nice surprise.  The Kiwi’s live to sail and be on the water. The ocean is so much a part of life that the museum is a great introduction to the people and places and the ways in which the islands were settled.  

Two things stand out.  The first is we get to go into a huge floating crane that is used at ports to load and unload ships.  Very cool.  The second is an exhibit on the famous NZ sailor, Peter Blake.  This guy knew how to sail.  He was an early pioneer in long-range racing and the America’s Cup races.  From the looks of the exhibit he is a true national hero.  They have one of the AC boats, a bunch of smaller boats and even a few “bachs” (pronounced batch) or beach shacks that the NZ coastline is famous for.  It seems everyone here has two things: a boat and a bach, all other material possession appears to be secondary.

Day Two Hundred and Eight January 12th

Up to another day of travel.  With the end in sight and the wind-down in full swing it is harder and harder to get motivated to move.  We are adjusting to the snails pace.

Before we leave the “big” city we stop by the post office to mail off a package and then the rental car place to hitch a ride for the next few days.   Our next destination in further up the north island at Ara Roa outside the town of Whangarei Heads.  The Maori language is going to take some getting used to.  Unlike the Australia’s who seem to have discounted the Aborigines and their culture, the New Zealanders embrace the Maori and have fully integrated their language and customs.   No need to rename everything here, they just go with the flow.  

The drive turns out to be a bit longer than we expected so after a not so quick stop at Subway we make our way to the beach for a picnic.   The wind is blowing a bit but we manage.   We end up in two different places: the first for the picnic and the second for a swim.  

The swim beach is clean and open and empty by our standards.  Sure there are a few people frolicking in the waves but nothing like home.  The water is rough, warm and salty.  I manage to get beyond the break only to realize the waves are stronger than they look.  It takes some time to get back in.

The kids find a large natural block of chalk that they can climb and play on.  It’s great fun and we end up full of chalk dust.  Eventually we motive and move on.

The place we are staying in is spectacular.  It is a large property atop a high hill overlooking both valley and ocean.  There are sheep in the pastures, horses walking about, rabbits and chickens.  The family that runs the place are sailors from Denmark that stopped by New Zealand mid-journey some years back and never left.  They have been working on the property for almost a decade and have done almost all of the work themselves.  Not only that but they are cooks and have prepped a lasagna dinner complete with salad and a cobbler dessert!

Day Two Hundred and Nine January 13th

The family we are staying with has volunteered to take the kids today so Teri and I actually have a free day.  It is the first one in a very long time.  Believe it or not we need to use it to catch up on logistics.  Oh, the glamour of travel.  Most of the time passes trying to stay on top of bills, travel planes, journals and blogs.  Time flies by and before we know it we are all having dinner and taking about the kids adventures on the sea kayaks and horses.

Day Two Hundred and Ten January 14th

Teri and Adele are riding horses today.  This place is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, like a farm in our Midwest back home, so people here own and ride horses.  They spend most of the day on single track high above the ridges, on the shoreline and in the ocean.  Yes, that’s right on the beach and in the water! When they return Adele is absolutely exhausted but looks happier than she has been in ages.  The girl does love horses.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Vince and I head to the beach.  We find a small cove down the road a bit and spend the day searching for seashells, climbing on rocks and playing our rendition of Dr. Suess’ “Ring the Gack” from One Fish Two Fish.  It is great fun.

To close out the day we all had back to our cove so we can teach Adele the Gack game and collect more black sea snail shells to make bracelets.  With the tide coming in, the waves crashing on the rocky shore, the sun going down and a slight chill in the air, it is picture perfect. The sights, sounds and smells reveal the sea as ever present.  To me it feels like the home I knew as a child.  

We have arrived.