Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Travels and Back In the States

TitiKaveka, Rarotonga, Cook IslandsAlright, I'm long overdue for a post here. I thought I'd post something when I was all employed and settled in, but that's looking like it's going to take a bit longer than I'd originally thought. I'd been keeping up with posts in Flickr and Facebook, but nothing here. So here goes, more of a photo-dump than anything, I think I've also been put off by the sheer volume of stuff to write about.

The day after my last day of work Kel, Gayle and I headed to Rarotonga. Claire flew over from London to meet us there a day or two later. There's not a lot to do on the island, but after the stress of wrapping up everything at work, that was fine by me. It was windy and not quite hot enough to make the water as inviting as it looks in the photos, so we did a lot of reading, eating and lounging around. Oh, and thanks to my inattention while grocery shopping we did an unintentional detox while DRINKING DECAF PLUNGER COFFEE ALL WEEK! Gah! I thought it was the water that made it taste funny until Kel noticed the Decaf marking. They should put bright colored warning labels on that stuff and sugar-free crap. :-)

Hermit CrabWhen I got bored, I'd harass the local wildlife or paddle around the lagoon in the house kayak. One morning I went for a run over the highlands in the center of the island on the cross island track. Unfortunately, I'd just missed the annual cross island race which was held the week before we arrived. It was a good 10-15k run, with about half dirt road and half muddy steep jungle track.

Rarotonga Cross Island Track

White Island Steam VentAfter Rarotonga, we headed over to Whakatane. Kel booked Claire and I on a trip out to White Island, an active volcano about an hour offshore by boat. Despite being seasick the whole way out, that was a great trip. Imagine Yellowstone without all the boardwalks and fences and warning signs. There are just random thermal features that pop up and fade away, and the crater lake changes colours dramatically, depending on what's going on below. When we were there, the water table was quite high due to recent rains, so there was steam everywhere, and new mudpots had recently opened. Our guide also said a second crater appeared to be forming. It had gone from the size of a plate to the size of a house in a matter of weeks. We couldn't go anywhere near that or the sulphur stacks due to the steam.

MahiaAfter Whakatane, we drove across through Gisbourne to Mahia on the East Coast, for a second attempt to go swimming with Moko the dolphin. He'd been hanging around Mahia for years, stealing people's beach toys and bringing them fish . . . until the week before we showed up. Now he seems to have moved up the coast to Gisbourne. That's unfortunate for Mahia, as in the off season (when the water's too cold for swimming) there's not a whole lot to do there. Also unfortunate is that it looks like Moko's been having more negative interactions with people in the more populated Gisbourne beaches, knocking surfers off their boards and harassing lifeguards . . . not good. They should maybe try to lure him back to Mahia for his own good.

'Friendly' Dolphin Strikes Again - New Zealand Herald.

With the dolphin swim off the agenda, we went to the local pub to drink some beer. We were all excited to see Crayfish (Rock Lobster) dinner on the menu, only to learn that they were out of Crayfish . . . Mahia: the bay of disappointment. Probably best to visit in the summertime. ;-)

Elephant Hill VinesNext we continued along to Napier. Kel had booked us for a Wine Tour with a place called 'Grape Escape'. I should capture the names of the Wineries here before I forget them: Brookfields (excellent Pinot Noir), Ngatarawa/Farmgate, Elephant Hill (where Kel and I had the best gnocchi for lunch), and Matariki.

Claire and Kel at Ngatarawa Winery

One funny thing about our wine tour was the fact that the rest of the tour group were Americans, including two officers on leave from Afghanistan.  I think that's the largest group of Americans I'd seen in NZ since the Te Reo Maori classes we'd taken a year or so before.

On the way back from Napier, we stayed at The Chateau Tongariro for a couple nights. The intent was to do some skiing, but it was quite late in the season, and the weather wasn't cooperating. But the Chateau is nice whatever the weather. They have an excellent restaurant, and a nice pool/sauna setup in the depths of the building (At least when it's not infested with screaming sproglets. There seemed to be something about the acoustics down there that amplified kid screams to horrific levels). ;-)

From there we had a couple of free days up in Auckland, then Kel and Claire took off for Sydney. I flew over to join them a couple days later.

Surfing BondiThey'd gotten all the shopping out of the way, so we just hit some restaurants (in particular Bill Granger's place) and made a trip over to Bondi Beach. Kel and Claire relaxed in the sun while I went out on a surfing lesson. Those were the best waves I've had in a few attempts at surfing. Makes me wish I'd gotten out at Ohope a few times . . . one of those things you think you'll always have time to do. Then again, as fun as that was, I felt like I'd been hit by a train the next day. ;-)

Claire headed back to London from Sydney (via Hong Kong) while Kel and I flew back to Auckland. The next week was a blur of packing and getting stuff ready to ship, meeting up with friends, and visiting old haunts for the last time. As far as I've heard, my stack of boxes and the kayak Kel gave me for my birthday are still waiting to ship from Albany.

Kel and Gayle saw me off at the Auckland airport with gifts of NZ gear, Pineapple Lumps, and Conchords tunes!

My Brother and his Halloween DisplayOn the other side of the 20 hour trip, I took a cab to my parents place from the Minneapolis Airport after waiting an hour or so for my brother to pick me up. He'd dislocated his shoulder playing volleyball earlier in the evening, and was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital.

It didn't dampen the Halloween spirit though.

I made it a point to get back to Minnesota in time for Halloween as David always goes all out at his place. We took my nieces to the pumpkin patch the next day. A couple days later we had a pumpkin carving night and horror-movie festival. Halloween night, I handed out candy while David took the girls out trick-or-treating.

David, Mya, Tammy, Trinity

The View from the Candy Door

Since October I've been catching up with friends, and working on finding a job, which is the first part of getting settled back in over here. That seems to be done now, but more on that soon . . .