Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Don't look down

After two months on the road, we find ourselves in Queenstown, the gorgeous place where crazy people like to do crazy stunts and where the reputation as adrenalin-fuelled adventure capital of the world is fitting. (Naturally, it's also a case of open-your-wallet-and-let-the-cash-fly-out because Queenstown'll suck you dry of funds before you can say “bungy”.)

Indeed, my big brave spouse did take the bungy plunge after years of putting it off, and it was a hell of a sight. He's even got the T-shirt to prove it. Were he also inclined – and if we were zillionaires – there’s also the world-renowned Shotover jet, the nausea-inducing aerobatic flights, mountain climbing, rock climbing, fly-by-wire, whitewater rafting, heliskiing, gliding, parapenting, parachuting and a zillion other thrills. You name it, and some entrepreneurial Kiwi has set up shop here.

Annie and Molly opted for the bungy trampoline – that’s Annie upside down - and now of course they’re asking: “Mama, when can we get one of these in the back yard?”

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Slice of heaven

Anyone who visits Mount Cook can’t help but be moved by the monument to climbers who have died up here. The Kiwi pioneering spirit is legendary; after all, this is the country that gave us Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with his Sherpa guide Tensing Norgay was the first to scale Mount Everest, in May 1953.

The Southern Alps in New Zealand have claimed many lives, but they’re also an alpine paradise for those brave enough to give them a go. Me? After huffing and puffing just to get here from the visitors’ centre, I have renewed admiration for people who push their minds and bodies to such limits - and my girls are completely amazed that some people are actually willing to die doing what they love best.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Mountain Mama

Fans of the legendary Kiwi director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films will salivate over the LOTR locations near where I'm standing, including the plains where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursued the Orcs in The Two Towers, as well as the battle of Pelennor Field in The Return of the King.

If like me, however, orcs and hobbits are not your thing, the Southern Alps' Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park is the perfect place to take your mountain walks short and easy, and then retire to your fireside perch, preferably with an alcoholic buzz and plenty of good conversation at hand.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Jet boat, jet girl

There’s a reason Molly’s not looking too confident here - we’re about to hit Mach 1 on a jetboat at the Rakaia Gorge - and, you know, wherever there’s a foot of water and sheer cliffs and jutting rocks all around, there’s an enterprising Kiwi willing to charge you a small fortune to do a couple of doughhnuts in his speedboat.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Rattle your dags, would ya?

In a country chock-full of fabulous tidbits of Kiwi slang, “rattle your dags” is one of my all-time favourites. (“Dags” being, literally, the dried-up bits of poop hanging from a sheep’s bum, and the expression “rattle your dags” – natch - deriving from the view one gets of the back of a sheep running.) In Canada, we might politely say “hurry up” or “shake a leg” or “get a move on” but rattle your dags is so much more fun, no?

This picture, taken en route to the Southern Alps, also brings to mind another of my favourite sheep jokes - you know the kind - where the sheep are always so much more than just a source of income for the average Kiwi farmer:

When a busload of tourists was passing through a small country town in New Zealand, one of the passengers noticed a sheep tied to a lamppost. “What's that?” she asked. “Oh, that? That’s the recreation centre!” the guide replied.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Marlborough Mama

These are my feet ... and this is my life in the Marlborough Sounds. Just in case I forget, I've got to say it now and say it loud: I LOVE NEW ZEALAND!! And I hope every parent who has ever dreamed of that elusive perfect family holiday will believe me when I say there could be no better place for it.
Over just one three-day period alone, my girls have fed wild-but-tame eels in a crystal-clear river, petted llamas and a Tibetan yak, bottle-fed a piglet, done doughnuts in a speedboat, groomed a thoroughbred, pruned a tree, drove a Jeep, steered a dinghy, watched the Crocodile Hunter in a luxury home overlooking the sea, marvelled at a friend’s private cactus garden, sipped kiddie cocktails in a hot tub, wore a wetsuit for the first time, clung to their daddy on the back of a jet ski, caught six sharks, ate fish they caught themselves and slept in a windswept cottage without electricity while Auntie Leanne cooked their dinner over an open fire.
What’s not to love?

Monday, 22 January 2007

The big fish: Before and after

After three hours in a dinghy with dad and Uncle Steve in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, Annie and Molly agree that this is the BEST thing they’ve EVER done. Total haul? Sand sharks: three. Blue cod: 23. Value of today’s school lesson? Priceless.(Note to self: Never feel obligated, no matter how much your daughters are head-over-heels for their new favourite thing, to start baiting hooks on their behalf.)

Friday, 19 January 2007

Mom and dad, alone at last

OK, so the alone thing only lasted five minutes ... but ya gotta take what you can get when you're gone for a year with nary a babysitter in sight. This is us (travellin mama and Smug Spouse) at Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the south island in NZ. Heaven.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Split personality

Split Rock is one of a zillion unbelievably picturesque parts of the divine Abel Tasman National Park at the top of NZ's South Island, which attracts international hikers and kayakers in droves. We’re happy to be here in the off-season, naturally, where we can hear ourselves think and where the seals and penguins aren’t too freaked out by the noise to duck for cover. If I had a zoom lens on my crappy little camera I could show you some penguins and seals but, alas, you'll have to close your eyes and imagine them ... and believe me when I say they were here. Honest.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Mama, you've got some 'splainin to do ...

Why is it I find myself having to explain the birds and the bees so often lately?!!

Just after this picture was taken, I took a death-defying spin through a Riwaka apple orchard on board Dan ‑ a lovely, if somewhat lamely named thoroughbred formerly owned by Mark Todd, New Zealand’s most decorated equestrian.

I’d promised the girls they could help me groom Dan on our return, but once we got him tied up, he unceremoniously flopped his penis out and started whacking his underbelly with it. Thwhack! Thwhack! Thwhack!

And so the following conversation ensued:

Annie: “Oh wow, mom! LOOK!”

Me (trying not to be juvenile): “Oh. Um, yeah, OK. Dan’s just flopped his penis out. Kinda big eh?”

Molly: “Yeah mom but is it at least bigger than dad’s?”

I kid you not, that is exactly what she said. Where the girl’s thought processes come from is anyone’s guess.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Eccentric friends 'R' us

One of the best parts about New Zealand is all the fantastically eccentric friends we have here – and none more so than this particular fellow, Shaun, pictured with Annie and Molly at his pad in Riwaka, showing off the head he chopped off a dead albatross on a Wellington beach recently.

It’s fair to say that Shaun loves animals more than he loves people, and he loves to collect weird shit. So when he saw the dead bird, he had to have its head. Off he ran to buy a knife, then scooted back to the beach, collected his trophy and mailed it to himself in a padded post-it bag before boarding a flight to Nelson.

Overpowering smells notwithstanding, Annie and Molly (and travellin mama) are duly impressed.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Cool place, hot sunset

Not for nothing was New Zealand recently voted the coolest holiday destination in the world (in a study by CoolBrands) as well as the best destination in the world (by British traveller magazine Conde Nast.) The fact that it’s so far away from Europe and North America is just about the only thing that doesn’t work in its favour.
Certainly, it costs a bit to get here but everything else – the thrills and spills of adventure tourism, the exchange rate, the wine, the clean and green reputation, the world-class sailing, even the Lord of the Rings film locations – attracts tourists like Anna Nicole Smith attracts rich old guys. Plus, it’s kid-friendly, super-safe and everyone speaks English. What more could a travelling family want?
OK, OK, the sunsets are pretty damn good too.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Neither cute nor cuddly

I’ve noticed a bit of a travellin' mama animal theme lately, with my last few posts being big on teddy bears, calves, piglets and jokes about sheep. Today is no different, it’s just that the animals in question – eels – don’t rank quite so high on the cute-o-metre.

We’re visiting Golden Bay’s famous wild-but-tame Anatoki eels, which have been hand-fed for decades in a pre-WWII tradition that began when a local Kiwi woman discovered that clicking her fingers at the surface of the water could bring the eels right to her.

Long misunderstood and reviled for their slippery black slimy-ness, these eels provide a great learning experience for Annie and Molly who delight in feeding them chunks of raw meat (gross!) on a stick. I have a newfound respect for all things slippery and black, although being a total wuss, I do draw the line at feeding them myself.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Solitude is bliss

Travellin mama finds that sometimes the best kind of travelling happens when someone else is out there doing it (ie. hubby and kids) and she is sitting on her fat ass reading an excellent novel with a fab view of the Tasman Sea.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

SMUMs of this world: Get a life

Acronyms being all the rage these days, I was amused to learn recently of the modern-day phenomenon known as the SMUM: a Smart Middle-Class Uninvolved Mother, generally well-educated and intelligent, who finds motherhood and her children tedious and uninteresting.

And since I’ve got a bit of time on my hands, I can’t help but wonder what a SMUM would think of me and my small clan here today as we get ready for a morning of school on the beach.

Annie and Molly have brought to “class” two of the seven teddies they’ve dragged halfway around the world (and oh, what I wouldn’t do to have had a frequent-flyer account for Annie’s green rabbit, Hippity, who has not only been driven across Canada three times and the US once, but has flown across the Pacific to NZ and Oz at least six times in the past eight years.) Molly’s Midnight is a new addition to our family, having been acquired in Calgary after much cajoling and praise from Molly herself: “Mom, you are so great. Mom, you are so beautiful. Mom, you are so perfect. Mom in fact I love you SOOOO very very much could you please drop 100 bucks on this build-a-bear and a coupla matching outfits?”

Anyway, no SMUM in her right mind would think I was cool or fun or halfway interesting to be doing a year-long, 24/7 adventure with my kids. But to her and her stuck-up urbanite, nanny-dependent friends, I say: Get a life! Realize that although motherhood can absolutely be tedious at times, it is what you make it. And know that your kids are often, if not almost always, more interesting than anything you could dream up in your pathetic adult-centric world. So get on the bandwagon, SMUMs, before you add yet another unflattering acronym to your repertoire ... SMUM: as in Shitty Mean Unappealing Mother.

Monday, 8 January 2007

School's such a beach

We've now been on the road for about 60 days and nights and it's places like these - where the girls' classroom for the day is one of my favourite beaches in New Zealand - that make it all so worth it.

This wee slice of paradise, in Golden Bay at the top of the south island, is called Tata Beach. Like many other places in NZ, Golden Bay is gloriously and ever so slightly behind the times, if not completely frozen in time, and it's a place where women can still hitchhike and farmers will still stop to pull hapless drivers out of the ditch - as one did for us on this very day when my husband pulled too far over to the left to let the school bus pass. He must have been lost in nostalgic thoughts at the time (his family used to holiday here, foraging and eating pipis and mussels until they would puke their guts out) but we're hoping the rental-car company that loaned us the Loser Cruiser doesn't notice anything amiss.

Ditch landings notwithstanding, nothing could ruin this perfectly perfect day.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Baaaaaad jokes

Beyond the more obvious charms of this picture-postcard South Pacific nation – beyond the scenery that never quits, the whale watching and hot springs and quaint villages, the jet boating and bungee jumping, the hiking and kayaking and sheep-shearing and rugby - lies a wonderfully quirky side of the “real” New Zealand that the average tourist might never see.

To get an insight into the local humour, it helps to be familiar with the odd sheep joke (which obviously you don’t need to share with the kids) but bear in mind that when a Kiwi is telling the jokes, Aussies are the butt. Any sheep joke will do, really, but this is one of my favourites:

"Two New Zealand sheep farmers are flying the herd to a new farm. Suddenly, the engine fails and the plane begins to plummet. Farmer 1: Quick! Grab a parachute and jump! Farmer 2: But what about the sheep? Farmer 1: Fuck the sheep! Farmer 2: (pause) Do you think we have time?"

Friday, 5 January 2007

Piggie porn, out of left field

One minute, it's cute kids feeding the piglets; next minute, it's a live sex show out in the paddock, starring a poor fat sow at the mercy of a horny old boar.

We're at an auntie's farm just south of Auckland and I can't help shake the feeling (not for the first time) that being a female in the animal kingdom isn't worth two shits. Because, really, what's in it for the ladies? It's not like they get dinner, or a date, or any scintillating conversation out of the whole thing.

So I watch in fascination - trying not to be juvenile for the girls' sake - as the sow and the boar start going at it right in front of us, but my God, the boar cannot find where to put it and I collapse in giggles as he starts trying a whole new approach, doing a full 180-degree turn till he's in a piggie sixty-niner and banging away in her ear. Hump, hump, squeal! Hump, hump, squeal! She's clearly used to the humiliation, poor thing, and no doubt sneaking regular peeks at her piggie watch hoping it will all end soon. And the boar? Well he's a typical man if ever there was one: rubbing up against anything as long as it feels good!
I'm glad I'd already explained the facts of life to the kids but there's no explaining this boar's attempts to get lucky. Fortunately Annie and Molly let me off the hook - no questions, just giggles.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

God of the forest

Every time we find ourselves north of Auckland, we make a point of visiting the Waipoua Forest – a truly awe-inspiring place famous for its living giants, including Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest), the biggest kauri tree in New Zealand. It’s 51 metres tall, about 14 metres around and somewhere between 1250 and 2500 years old. Unfortunately, the girls are more interested in the chocolates we have bribed them with to make the short walk into the forest … but Doog and I are totally charmed. This forest is often overlooked when time-pressed tourists are making up their itinerary and maybe that’s part of the attraction. In my experience, the fewer the people, the better the experience.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Bad parenting: The re-enactment

Here on Baylys Beach, on New Zealand's north island, my husband shows his true, non-law-abiding Kiwi colours by giving the girls a driving lesson - confident in the knowledge that, you know, being six and seven shouldn't preclude one from learning to drive.

In a comfortable fog of jet lag just hours after arriving from Singapore, we drive up and down, up and down this gloriously deserted beach, the girls taking turns behind the wheel and me keeping a wary eye on the rising tide. Later we let them sprawl out in the back with the van door wide open as we take turns at the wheel. Doog's favourite New Zealand singers (Bic Runga and Dave Dobbyn) are cranked to the max and we are blissfully unaware ... until a guy in a Jeep drives right for us, gesturing wildly towards the back of the van.

“Hey! HEY!” he screams. “Your kid!”
And we're all like: “What? What? What?!!!”
And he’s yelling “Your KID! She just fell OUT!”

And there in the rearview mirror, yes indeed, is our Molly sprawled out on her back, spitting chunks of wet sand into the air. We do a quick U-turn. A mouth full of sand and barely a tear - now that's one tough kid. She's even cool enough to re-enact her tumble for this picture, and then we all hastily agree on one thing: Never, under any circumstances, tell Grandma.