Monday, 5 January 2015

Showcasing Wellington / NZ life as another chapter begins & a very kiwi Christmas Road Trip

It's been a little while, so please read this when you have time, get a cup of tea and relax - (it's a long one)....
Summer moon....
This picture follows on from the last post - as a new moon arises. Yes it's been a big year, and next year will be an even bigger one, however life doesn't end in December and begin again in January, however the Christmas period does at least allow for people to come together and time away from usual routines. So here's a little snippet of the last wonderfully crazy few weeks living in Wellington, New Zealand.

1) SAYING GOODBYE TO 'LIFE AS WE KNOW IT'
The work Christmas party way split between a lunch at Wagamama and then a 2 hour boat cruise around the harbour. It was a glorious afternoon with my fantastic colleagues and friends. It was especially enjoyable for me as I was due to finish working with the team after 2.5+ year together, and these people have been with me through my entire NZ life.
Work Xmas Party
The idea of leaving such a lovely group of people and work that I feel competent and effective in, is a daunting and scary idea. Regardless of whether this is becomes a permanent move or not, I can at least say that the last 2.5+ years have been a wonderful experience and more importantly contained many hours of laughter - which is something I always highly value!

2) FEELING PART OF A COMMUNITY
Many of past travels have included attending weddings... I've been blessed going to weddings in Canada, Vietnam, Romania and now I can add New Zealand to that list. But more importantly than attending different wedding ceremonies, was the sense of belonging that these invitations meant to me personally. Living away from 'home' is tough, don't let anyone tell you otherwise, making new friends is great, but knowing people long enough to have shared (or be invited to share) special events like weddings can take time. 
Therefore I was incredibly honored to be invited to my friend's (Chris) wedding in December. I went on the stag party too - but for obvious reasons I will not be sharing that information here! Being invited to such an event really helped to remind me of feeling like I am not just a temporary visitor to NZ any longer, but am part of a community that goes beyond superficial niceness. I can certainly add a few more people to this list, but you really know who you are already!
@ the winery wedding
Bride & Groom
 The wedding (at Coney Winery, Martinborough) was in itself a brilliant day with a relaxed atmosphere and a day where it was about everybody just having fun (very much like The Hungarian wedding I attend in 2007). Simple, relaxed and about enjoying the day!

3) CHRISTMAS ROAD TRIP
This was the main reason for writing this post. Given the upcoming change in my employment status, I ended up with a week off after 24th December. After a very relaxed and chilled Xmas day (Dec 25th), I decided to leave Wellington on boxing day and drive north. My plan really was simple, drive north... text friends along the way, stop when I feel tired or just feel like stopping, and as it's NZ - stop when you see something worth taking a picture of - so every 3o minutes!
Day 1 and the first proper stop was Taupo (4/5 hours from Wellington).  Taupo being a super huge glacial lake in the centre of the North Island. As you can see from the pictures below, it's the perfect stop for a random swim. I literally just pulled off the road to a little layby with a few other cars there, and threw on my trunks, bathers, swimming wear (insert culturally appropriate word here...).
Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo
 Swimming in Lake Taupo was chilly - but worth it for the pureness of the water. Whilst I dried of in the sun next to my car, I text my friend / colleague (Michelle) and was invited to join her and her family in the Thermal Valley Hot pools outside of Rotorua. I firstly stopped int Taupo township to have a pizza and glass and beer!
ROTORUA - land of smelly thermal energy and site of the APOTC in 2015. The Thermal pools were at Waikete Thermal Valley, wow, what a great place to catch up with Michelle and her UK family and enjoy an amazingly pleasant NZ evening. Relaxing in the pools (which go up to 40c) between 6-8 pm was a blissful way relax after a long day's driving. 
Hot Pool, Rotorua...
The evening didn't quite end there though, with a short 20 minute drive into Rotorua to find a cheap hostel room for the night. I was not disappointed as I found Cactus Jack's hostel who gave me a private room for just $40 (£20). 
Day 2 started well with a tip from the hostel receptionist to head off to the local market around the corner for breakfast. I was loving my morning after a bacon and egg butty (sandwich), a cup of tea and then an amazing 20 minute ($18) Thai Massage in the open air. It was just heavenly!
Rotorua Markets
 Following such a brilliant start to the day I was now ready to head up north and to Auckland and to visit my friend's Tony & Monica. Coincidentally it happened to be Tony's birthday. So hand delivering a card to him on the viaduct in Auckland at a tapas restaurant was an added bonus. 
Summer in Auckland...
Two days in Auckland followed, which included eating, drinking, relaxing at Tony & Monica's beautiful home and deck in the glorious sunshine. A few guests came and went on day two including A Romanian couple and their young son, which allowed me to practice some of my now very basic Romanian language skills. Perhaps the highlight of the two days was yet another swim - this time in the ocean in front of the Rangitoto Volcanic Island.... see below.
Swimming in front of Rangitoto
The water was warm, shallow and full of people enjoying the stunning Christmas weather! Despite the heat, you just can't beat a good catch up over a cup of tea / coffee, and we weren't going to miss out on doing that at such a lovely place. Mum, in case you are reading - I had plenty of sun cream on!
Tea @ the beach...
Coffee with Tony
After two days of relaxing, it was time to hit the road again. I had a choice of three ways to return to South. I decided to keep my options open and head to Hamilton and visit an OT friend, who was in turn visiting her friend there. As things turned out (in true NZ style), The mother of my friend's friend - was an Occupational Therapist too! So after a lovely cup of tea and a great chat, I had to decide which way to go. A quick phone call to my friend Shane helped me decide! 
4 Hours later I arrived in Clive, Napier and was supping a beer on Shane's parent's deck, in a beautifully sunny Hawkes Bay. Shane's family offered me a place to sleep and a great breakfast of home baked scones before I headed out for one final stop. 

In the nearby town of Hastings, I randomly called in to see another friend Lisa. She was working but was able to meet me for a tasty lunch in a nearby cafe. This was the perfect way to end the trip, especially as it allowed me to do a little shopping along the way!

So in 4 days I had been up and down the North Island, seen 6 friends on unscheduled visits, swam in a great lake, thermal hot pools and the ocean, and been invited to stay with people for the majority of my time away. There's not many places I've lived where you could just set off without any specific plan and end up seeing so many beautiful places, and just meet up with people as you go...

Thank you New Zealand for providing such a great end to what's been a huge year! 
Regards from New Zealand!

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