The flight from Sydney to Auckland was pretty uneventful, as they usually are, but the fun really started when we hit the tarmac.

It was nice to see that our bags, well at least Wilson and Lulu’s bag, made it across the ocean!

It was later in the afternoon, and Christmas was fast approaching.  The kids had been bugging us to go see The Grinch as a way of Canadianizing an otherwise un-Canadian Christmas time…no snow.  No Christmas carols on the radio (we downloaded a bunch on Spotify thank goodness).  No fanfare.  No Santa Claus parade.  No friends.  But we had the most important thing.  Family.

“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas…,” he thought,”…means a little bit more.”

So, we went to the movies as we thought it might be the only chance to see this before Christmas.  We had our Air BNB place all ready booked and we just had to show up.   The people that owned the BnB said that we would just need to go into the house as they wouldn’t be home, and they would be out at their Christmas party.   After we got some groceries, we headed out towards our place for the night.  However, we didn’t realize that it took so long to get there, and we didn’t get there until late.

You see, everything takes longer to drive to in New Zealand.  We use the HereWeGo app for pretty much everything, however, the times of arrival are usually off by an hour at least when most of our travel times in the car are 3 or 4 hours.  I think that is because most of the roads, other than the ones in school zones, are 100kph speed limits.  That includes all of the back roads, the narrow winding streets where sheep are scattered across the road, where it is impossible to drive any faster than 60kph.

So, back to our first night.  We arrived at the house, and it was pitch black.  Strange, as we thought that at least a light would have been on.  Also, there was a car in the driveway.  Strange, as no one was supposed to be here.

“Honey!  Get up!  Get up!  Someone is here!” we heard from the inside of the house which was pitch black.  Strange…to say the least.  There were people inside the house talking, but we couldn’t see them, and we were talking outside the house and they could see us in the dark.

We all got tucked into bed and the kids and Deb read a very appropriate Christmas book. We read Christmas stories every night in December when we are at home….and there has been a distinct paucity of such books on our travels thus far… so this was super nice!

Eventually, our host came to the door and opened it up welcoming us in.  She was prophetically apologizing that they were in bed, and the power was out in the house.  Hence the blackness.  She kept offering a cup of tea for us, but all we wanted to do was to go to bed.  We marched through their house to the back rooms which had been their sons rooms when they lived at home.  This was strange again since most BnBs were separate entrances, or separate apartments.  Oh well, it was a short overnight stay.

They had a cute cat that kept coming into our part of their house, and snuggled in with Deb and Lulu.  We found out that Lulu is allergic to cats that night!

Breakfast time in New Zealand! Most, if not all, of New Zealand and Australia do not know about Elf on the Shelf, and so the kids got to go through the story many many times!

We woke up the next morning, and they had made a lovely breakfast for us, and we sat and chatted for quite some time before we hit the road.  They gave us a very nice Christmas present before we left, and we hit the road.  It was a late start, so we stopped in a small town, which was lovely, for lunch and made a visit to the local hospice shop.  I have told Deb this many times during this trip, that Hospice Huntsville should set this kind of thing up.  It is a great idea, and very popular!  It is pretty much a thrift store, but it is full of estate clothing, home furnishings, and stuff of the like, that is from former residents of the hospice….or whomever wants to donate I gather…

Most towns have them, and most towns have a Salvation Army store too…even small towns like Te Ahora where we stopped.  It was the size of Burks Falls.  (Hint hint Eleanor…)

It was raining on and off, so we…well I…wanted to make a couple of stops along the way.

This is really the only photo that I got that was decent from the Te Ahora Historic Gold Mine. It was pouring rain, and most of the mine was up the side of a mountain. This is where they dumped the raw materials from trolley carts into a horse and buggy,

We first stopped at an old gold mine in the Waiorongomai Valley that was built on the side of one of the hills in the area and was comprised of a small village called Quartzville and had Butlers Incline which was a trolley system to cart the mining rocks up and down a hill.  Looked like a Kyra Garage Workout to me.

This place  sounded really cool when we read about it in this book called New Zealand Frenzy (here is a link to the website: nzfrenzy.com) that came highly recommended to us to find some of those hard to find places that aren’t overrun with tourists, and would allow us to explore New Zealand and all that it has to offer.

It started to pour rain and we didn’t get much past the first part of the hike.  The kids didn’t want to have any part of this hike, even though it looked like a lot of fun.  The hike was going to be 1h30min return to go up to the top and then back down.  In the rain.  So that wasn’t going to happen.  I left out the fact that the hike was 45 min one way, and not total.  Big difference.

We went out for lunch in a small town along the way, and stopped at another hike called Wairere Falls, which again was 45min.  One way, and even thought the hike was beautiful and through lush a rain forest that snaked around a river and many smaller falls, it was uphill the whole way.  Lulu lasted a while, but then needed to turn around and go back to the car after someone on their way back told them that the falls was another 30 minutes away.

Wilson and I continued on, and got to the falls about 10 minutes later.  Not sure which falls those people saw.

It was a great hike as it was over bridges, up ladders and stairs, over roots and through mud.  Fun hiking!  For some of us.

We got back to the car and started to drive again toward to Rotorua which was going to be our first real town we were to stop at in New Zealand.  This place is a big tourist town that piggybacks on the natural geothermal activity in the area with large areas with exposed pools and mud pits bubbling away.

Our place was literally right on the edge of a geothermal pool…and when we pulled up, we saw smoke pouring from under a fence with the fence boards stained black.

“Don’t they know that their house is on fire?  We should call someone!” we said before we clued into the fact that these were just geothermal vents that seemed to be everywhere in everyones yards.  Phew!

The main objective for the evening was to make the traditional Christmas sugar cookies to get ready for them to be baked the next day and decorated.

My main objective was to make a “feel good memories of home” meal….my mom’s ham and pea linguine.  One of the kids favourites.  They are starting to ask for “favourites” from home more and more, especially since it is the holidays.  And holidays means family and home.

When the next day arrived, we woke up and Deb and I got to go for a run through the geothermal areas, which was fun as it was cool in the morning and the smoke rising was really spectacular.

We got ourselves all ready for the day and we went to Velocity Valley, which was an adventure theme park in the area.  The kids suffered through a hike, so we decided to do something fun.  This place had bungee jumping from a crane, sky flying (skydiving, but not out of a plane), jet boating and schweeb racer which is a new form of human powered transportation that they are trying to get funding for to help make human powered monorail systems throughout the world.  The concept is really cool, and could “take off” if it gets funding.  Plus it would combat obesity, add to prevent dementia and some cancer, and type 2 diabetes.  Cool.  (Read more here….www.schweeb.com)

The Trenholm-mobile a la Christmas!

The kids put on some flying suits and went into the wind turbine that pushed them up to give them a sense of what skydiving is like, without the earth hurtling towards them.  They both loved it.

Wilson got in there and the fan turned up a bit more.  He loved the feeling and he spun around and did some tricks in the air.  Big grins, wind blowing in their mouths, and slobber propelling out of there as well.  Poor workers as I am sure they were covered by the end of the day in tourist slop.

Poised, steady, and focused!

Then it was Lulu’s turn.  She had to be persuaded to get off the waiting line bench, and then sat on the side of the fan/pillow apparatus.

Thinking too much…

But after about 5 minutes, she agreed to let them try to propel her up towards the sky….er…I mean net.  Once the wind started blowing, Lulu didn’t need much fan power to propel her up towards the ceiling of the cage, and they did some assisted ups and down as she was nervous for them to let go of her hands and feet.

Then the old man got on the device. They had to turn the fan up.  And up.  And up.  The building might have started to shake a bit…to get me off of the platform.  But, they got me up, and it was super fun.  I learned how to use the angle of my hands to spin me one way or another, and by extending your arms and legs you increase the surface area which propels you up (or would be your brake in the sky if you were diving out of a plane).

Then it was time to jump into the Scweebers, and race against each other.  First it was Deb versus Wilson.

It was fast.  It was furious.  But in the end…Deb won by a small margin…

Then it was Lulu’s turn to go against Wilson.  Wilson was gracious enough to give Lulu a head start, and he was going to pedal slowly.  So slowly in fact that he actually stalled out and the attendant needed to push him up an incline.  Haha…  In the end, Wilson got his competitive spirit on and beat Lulu.  She was more out for a leisurely ez-rider bike…

Last but not least, Wilson used his last ride token to go on a jet boat ride, which is a big thing here in New Zealand.  Usually these super fast boats go down rivers and through canyons, but here, they compress it all and you go through a narrow race course.

I sure hoped that the driver knew what he was doing as he was going very fast!

It was a great time, and the kids wanted more, more, more!  But we had to leave… and get ice cream!

Deb kept the kids home and finished up the Christmas cookies, while I went out and did a bit of Christmas shopping….  I tell you, that is the way to do it.  Three days before Christmas, go out without any list or agenda and walk/drive around as fast as you can and buy what you see and say “She’d like this” when you first see it.  Don’t over think it.  Just do it.  Got all of the shopping done in a few hours!

By the time I got back, they had found their way over to the local playground which had a rope pyramid which we played another round of tag on with everyone.  It is a lot of fun seeing the kids monkey around the ropes while the adults try to bend and maneuver around the ropes.  We aren’t as young as we used to be!

Deb was done, and had a hard time getting out of the rope pyramid. Haha!

Lulu doing her interpretive pole dance!

The kids trying to get me to do my Hobart pole dancing routine again!

We had grabbed some Christmas decorations at the Te Ahora hospice shop, and I had found some LED lights at the dollar store here, so the kids decorated up the car and it looked awesome.

We washed up and headed off to the Maori village experience, called Te Puia, to learn more bout the Maori culture, and to have an evening dinner experience.

It was pretty impressive and as “authentic” as I would imagine a cultural heritage place to be like.

Say this word ten times fast!

We were shuttled around in groups to see the grounds, and how our dinner was being prepared in an earthen oven.

The whole crowd then assembled on the lawn in front of the ceremonial house, and they did a welcoming ceremony as if we were a tribe visiting from a different area.

We were then ushered inside the hall and they put on a traditional show of singing and dancing, and they explained this history behind each of the songs and dances.

At the end, they invited the women up on to the stage to learn how to do the spinning ball dance that Maori women typically do during these ceremonies.  Lulu went up and did this front and centre.

Then the men went up and did a Huka dance, including the bulging eyes and tongues protruding out as far as they would go.

At the end of the ceremony, everyone was invited to dinner where the contents of the earthen oven were brought in and put down before us for a delicious meal.  We then headed down to the geothermal pools for the sunset display and hopefully the geyser would go off and give us a little show.

We hopped in the people mover carts and headed down, and across a narrow bridge where one older man didn’t hear our bus coming or didn’t move off enough to the side and the bus actually side swiped him, pushing him into the guardrail!  And the driver didn’t even stop. Crazy!

He was alright and everyone went back to the usual tourist wandering pattern, totally oblivious of their surroundings, walking wherever they wanted to walk.

However, everyone was facing the geyser, which was impressive but certainly not Ole Faithful, but it was cool nonetheless.  But I turned the other way and there was a glorious sunset happening over the river that was leading to the geothermal pools, and the mist was rising off of it…absolutely stunning.  Eventually people started to figure out what was behind them, and came over to join me for the sunset.

It was a nice way to end the night.  We jumped back on the trolley, got in the car, turned on the Christmas lights, and went home to get ready for the next day which was our big trip to National Park, home of the Tongariro Crossing and Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings!