Archive for the ‘life learning/unschooling’ Category

Grandpa Verne and Grandma Claudia came and we drove them all the way out to Cape Palliser, because we love it, and that’s what we do.

Tapeka Bay, waaaaaaaaaaaay up in the Bay of Islands.

Lucy took this while playing the brilliant photography scavenger hunt we came up with to keep the kids occupied.  They had to go around and take photos of everything on the list we made, including such items as a white car, a mermaid, dad’s underwear that blew off the porch (and please retrieve those as well), and apparently, a sunset…

After 3 days of relative luxury, we moved our way down to the Sugar Shack at Pakiri Bay.  As you can see, it was awesome.

kiwi bridge to the long, hot, dusty trail to the beach…

ah, sweet relief.

sugar shack, up close and personal…

the two single cabins, kitchen cabin and bathroom cabin next to the sugar shack.

Grandma and Lucy brave the bridge with Pancha

horseback riding on the beach and me without my camera…

view from the kitchen window of the sugar shack.

Borrowed dogs are the best kind of dogs…

Scott and Nadine under the pink Opotiki skies…

East Cape…

East Cape horses…

swimmin’ hole!  smart kids wait to see if the adults get eaten before getting in…

A very kiwi New Years eve at Tokomaru Bay.  despite being awoken in the middle of the night by drunken horse-drivers who were waaaaaaaay too close to our tent for my liking, it was paradise!

Good morning 2010!

Lucy woke up with me to watch the first sunrise of 2010 and my 35th birthday!  It would be more accurate to say she got up with me, as none of us were sleeping as a result of having decided to camp in the very spot where the locals welcome the first sunrise of the year with really loud music!

Surfing in Gisborne…


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But first… for our regularly scheduled “Check Out This Crazy Insect” segment, we found this tiny guy with a giant fluffy tail in our bathroom….


you can tell how tiny he is in this photo by comparing him to the size of the dust particles on the inch-wide ledge we found him on…


While we’re in the bathroom, I might as well also show you how Mark has converted it into a recording studio…


ok then, on to the main event!

A few weeks ago we decided it was time for another road trip, and set off for the Coromandel Peninsula.   The original plan was to camp, but wouldn’t you know it, the only part of New Zealand that got rain that weekend was the Coromandel Peninsula!   We decided to book a room at Hahei Holiday Beach Resort, to stay dry and have warm showers to come home to, as we were determined to play in the ocean one last time before summer came to an end!

We left town on a Friday after work and drove to Lake Taupo, where we enjoyed a hotel room with it’s own natural mineral pool in a small, private courtyard right outside the bedroom door.  Unfortunately, the pool was empty when we arrived, and it took about an hour to get it 1/2 filled with warmish water (the hot water came out in a very slow trickle) so while we did enjoy having it there, it ended up being a quick lukewarm dip before bed.

Saturday morning we set off for Hahei Beach (which we neglected to take a photo of, but you can see several by clicking here), and were pleased to arrive (in the rain and quite happy we had booked a room!) at a gorgeous beach perfect for the R&R we had planned.

The main attractions were a hike to Cathedral Cove…










burning our butts at Hot Water Beach, where you dig a pit and wallow in the hotspring water that gurgles up from the sand…


or jump into pits that people have abandoned… but watch out for the hot spots, mark ended up with a red patch on his leg from getting too close to a ‘vent’


or you can actually give up digging your own pit and take over one that a nice family vacates shortly after you arrive…



But I think the highlight was a gorgeous day in the sunshine at Stingray Beach.  We had hoped to snorkel at Gemstone Bay (and rented all the gear for it) but with all the runoff from the recent rain we heard that the visibility wouldn’t be great, and when we arrived there the weather was a little too chilly to make jumping into the large waves pounding the big rocks all that appealing, so we continued on our hike to Stingray Bay, which was gorgeous, and in true New Zealand weather fashion, the sun came out and we all had a wonderful time in the waves…









see how much fun it was?



Definitely an area we’d like to visit again!!  Anyone want to join us?

until next time,

the pullyblanks

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After the golden sandy beaches of Marahau and the Abel Tasman Park, our next stop would be Golden Bay.   We didn’t have any kind of reservation lined up for a campsite or lodging, and we were there during the busiest camping season of the year, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.   To make matters less fun, my recurring stiff/painful neck issue reared it’s ugly head when we were packing up our campsite at Marahau, so over the course of the long, twisty drive to Golden Bay, it grew worse and worse.  We had hoped to go horseback riding in the Golden Bay area, but somehow I didn’t think riding a horse would be good for my cranky neck.  Not to mention the fact that we had nowhere to sleep that night, and life was a little stressful when we pulled into Takaka.   Takaka, being a very laid-back hippie artist town, solved that problem fairly quickly, though — it’s hard to be stressed out in Takaka.

We inquired at the DOC site about possible camping sites, and were told that everything was full, there was nowhere to camp, other than a makeshift overflow area near the river/highway junction.  As there was a music festival nearby, we assumed that would be full of yahoos (nothing against yahoos, we just weren’t in the mood) so we went to the i-site, where there was a huge line-up of people seeking accomodation.  Miraculously, the woman who helped us “suddenly remembered” a little guesthouse up the road, with a swimming pool, horses, and really friendly owners, and luckily, they had room for us for two nights.  We arrived at Larry and Jennie’s house, and they welcomed us warmly, their son Tomai quickly ushered our kids into the house to play LEGO, and not too long after, everyone was in the pool… actually, Dexter said it was too cold (the blubberless among us have a hard time with very cold water) and I opted for a refreshing and cleansing shower, but Lucy and Mark and Tomai the resident child and his two friends all enjoyed themselves in the pool.

We all enjoyed our cottage,


the gardens,



the whari (the home that Larry’s great-great grandfather built in 1857 as a new immigrant from Sweden for himself and the wife and two boys that followed),


the inside of the whari…


and the view from our bedroom windows.



We did not enjoy the omnipresent sandflies that were chewing away at our ankles and feet, but we did our best to ignore them.  I’m still carrying their trademarks…

As luck would have it, Larry and Jennie were having a big bonfire that night, so Mark took the kids up the road to that while I stayed back and rested my weary neck and read a book.  The bonfire turned out to be ENORMOUS, and lots of fun for all.



The next day was somewhat gray and dreary and misty and spitty, so we went for a drive to the opposite end of the Abel Tasman Park than we had seen before, to the massive but remote campsite at Totaranui.  I had called months before about camping here, but it is so popular they open up for bookings in July, and you just hope you can get through to make a reservation.   We could see why, even on a dreary day, it was a great place to spend the last day of the year!



That night was New Year’s Eve, and we celebrated in grand style, doing a puzzle of New Zealand, the kids cracked open the ‘Times Tables’ CD and workbook they got for Christmas (when you homeschool you can get away with these kinds of Christmas gifts — they had a grand old time singing and learning all about multiplication, and I had a little joy in my heart seeing that this crazy scheme seems to be working after all…), and Lucy and I finished off the night reading (different) books about Mary, Queen of Scots, coincidentally.  I think we might have stayed awake until all of 10 pm, and drifted off to sleep content with how 2008 had wrapped up.  It didn’t turn out anything like what I had envisioned at the beginning, but it was good for all of us nonetheless.

The next morning, after Larry and Jennie gave me a lovely birthday gift of chocolate covered almonds, we set off for Nelson.  Since it was my birthday, we treated ourselves to pints and hot fudge sundaes at a Mac’s Brewery, and went to see Madagascar 2, since High School Musical 3 wasn’t playing…no, I’m not kidding, I can’t get enough of that Troy Bolton!  ok, I’m kinda kidding now…



We were lucky enough to catch a ‘Flight of the Concords’ marathon to fall asleep to in our cozy hotel room.   We were all over these guys back in Canada, but here in New Zealand I think you have to wait a while for new episodes to appear, even online.  Blah.   On a somewhat more amusing note, when I hear certain people speaking kiwi for a length of time, it sometimes reminds me of Murray, and I giggle a little, which is fun for me, but probably not for the person I’m talking to.  anyway…

When we woke up, it was time to go see my old friend Jennie Rees from my Chico Sports Club days, who is now Mrs. Ricciardi, the performing arts teacher, wife to Andrew, mom to Ella and Maya, and just as much fun as ever.




We hiked up to the ‘Center of New Zealand’ monument,



saw a tui bird (usually you hear tui birds, but this one was even visible enough to photograph!),



found a lovely bug,


and capped it off with lunch at a beachside cafe.  Nelson is a beautiful town, and I can see why Jennie and Andrew have given up their North American luxuries (like decent peanut butter, sorry kiwis) to stay there!

We had hoped to make it further south, to Queenstown and Lake Wanaka region, to see the Fox Glacier, Milford Sound… I could go on and on about what we haven’t seen yet… but did I mention how twisty every single road here is?  I would be curious to know what the longest stretch of straight road in New Zealand is… not far, I’m guessing, and I bet there is only one of them.  We opted for seeing less of the country and being in each place longer, and that pace was perfect for us.  I would love to head back to the Abel Tasman park and “tramp” in and stay in the huts they have along the trail, but we shall see how this New Zealand adventure plays out.  When we came home our trampoline, drums, guitar and piano arrived (thanks BC educational allotment!), so I’m not sure Mark and the kids will ever want to leave the house again…

All in all, it was a fabulous trip, and once we recover, we’ll start planning a journey on the North Island!

Happy New Year from the AmeriCanaKiwi Pullyblanks!


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Greymouth was uneventful for us, as we essentially stayed long enough to eat, sleep, wake, eat, fill up with petrol (kiwi word of the day), and head north.  It was a gorgeous, hot day, and the scenery, once again, did not disappoint.


One of the main differences between New Zealand and the rest of the world is that New Zealand has no indigenous land mammals other than the seal, so birds sort of took the place of small mammals in the ecosystem.  There are a lot of flightless (or relatively flightless) birds here, that forage on the ground, and seem more like giant rodents than birds.  We encountered our first roadside Weka, though, in truth, I think this was taken the night before, on the road from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth, but I didn’t want to leave the little guy out, so here he is…


One of our stops along the way was to see the famed “Pancake Rocks” at Punakaiki, and while we didn’t see them in their full, high-tide glory, we are a family who appreciates a good geological display, and were so glad we stopped…








After getting our fill of crazy rocks and Dr. Seuss trees, we hit the road and didn’t stop (ok, we stopped once for ice cream) until we got to Marahau, and pitched our tent at ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’



We were right next to a small river, and more importantly, right next to Abel Tasman National Park, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth, without a doubt.   We found a few different ways to pass our time there…



The highlight of our time there, though, was awesome burgers at the Fat Tui.

No, actually, that was pretty good, but much to our surprise, the Powers That Be wouldn’t let us rent kayaks for a day, because our kids were under 14.  14!!!  We’ve kayaked several times with our kids, and the water here seemed calmer than a few of our outings off the coast of BC (remember THAT uncles?!?!?), and seeing as how the kiwis are usually pretty lax about safety issues, we were more than a little surprised and disappointed, and not at all beligerent with the kayak rental staff in our frustration.  Not. At. All.   We chalked it up to the fact that the conditions change so rapidly, thereby making it unsafe for kids to go out of the protected bay they offered us for an hour’s kayak amid swimmers and not much else.  nah.

So, we moved on to plan B, which was taking a water taxi into Abel Tasman park, which was a lot less effort anyway, right?   Along the way we enjoyed (or endured, depending on whether you were a pullyblank with control issues or not) another boat ride, and saw Split Apple Rock.



Then they dropped us off with our swim gear and food and beverages on the beach at Te Pukatea Bay, where we lounged, ate and drank, swam and sandcastled…





…until it was time to set off on our 30 minute “tramp” across the Pitt head Peninsula from Te Pukatea Beach to Anchorage Beach…


…where we met up with a Kereru, or New Zealand pigeon…


…and landed on Anchorage Bay for more fun in the sun while we waited for our water taxi to take us back to camp.


We all swam and lounged, dexter busied himself building a sandcastle city…


…and then toyed with the idea of total destruction of his newly created empire.  He leapt around amidst the villagers for about 10 minutes without once damaging any of the lodgings.  (Seriously?  you don’t want to smash even a few of them?  You’re a better monarch than I, my friend)…


…and just generally enjoyed this little slice of heaven.  We all felt really lucky to be here that day.

that’s it for tonight, I’m extending this to a 4 part post, and wishing for more time in the day!!

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With new teddies in hand, we set off from Christchurch (where we saw only the outskirts and only spent one night in a holiday park/campsite right in town) to the Banks Peninsula, where we would be camping for 3 days over Christmas.


We didn’t really know anything about the area, so imagine our delight when it turned out to look like this:


These two photos are of Akaroa Bay.   In the next one, you can see the mouth of the bay, where it opens up to the Pacific Ocean.


This was one of those drives where you have to stop every few minutes to take a photo, because it is just so breathtakingly gorgeous!


To get to our campsite, we had to drive “over the hill” away from the Bay, on the twistiest, lovliest road, with crazy switchbacks and no shoulder or guard rails at all, and a few friendly locals…


We arrived at Okains Bay to find a really windy ocean front campsite, with pine trees and a great adventure playground for the kids, a dirt bike track that made us wish we had brought the bikes after all, but no clear indication of actual “sites” like we have in california and canada.  you just sort of throw your tent up wherever you like, so we drove around the campsite looking for our perfect spot to spend Christmas.  We ended up with a beautiful spot right on a river/estuary that led to the ocean just a quick walk up the beach.  This is the view from our site:


It was “beachfront”, but protected from the wind.  It had a great estuary to explore, a cool cave to look at, and best of all, entertaining sheep watching.  In short, we couldn’t have been happier with where we landed.


The kids loved the flying fox…


the beach was beautiful!



and the sand was perfect for drawing “google monsters”, who have two mouths, because they can be happy and sad at the same time, by the way…



On Christmas Eve, we went on a dolphin finding boat (too cold for the dolphin swim for us) and saw the world’s smallest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphin.


there were a bunch of them, swimming all around the boat, but very hard to photograph!



In addition to dolphins, we saw “cathedral cave” and the stunning scenery of Akaroa bay.






The boat then took us just outside the bay, to look for penguins (which did not cooperate) and more seals.    The baby seals were very entertaining to watch, but hard to photograph (for my camera anyway) from a moving boat.  They spent a lot of time scrambling up and falling down the steep rocks…


The boat ride itself was lots of fun, but our two kids had slightly different reactions…



After our boat trip, we made our way back over the twisty road, stopping again for more photos, of course…


…and worried that the rain in Akaroa would be much worse back at our campsite, but we were really lucky with the weather our whole trip, and it was lovely back at camp.  We went to bed and waited for Santa to come in the night.  We did hear something rustling around in our garbage, but we’re pretty sure it was a possum, though maybe Santa was looking for the “meat pie and beer” that kiwis leave out in lieu of cookies and milk, according to our kiwi christmas books…


oh, and here is the uniquely kiwi christmas wrapping paper I used…


… anyway, christmas morning in the tent…


We spent the day playing “Monopoly: World Edition”, doing laundry, making new friends, and just enjoying this kiwi camping christmas.  We really missed our family and friends, but we also enjoyed this very special, once in a lifetime holiday season.

We left Okains Bay feeling pretty ready to go home, actually.  Little did we know how much fun we’d have over the next week.   We got a late start heading out from Okains Bay, after packing everything up and tracking down a family we had made friends with to say goodbye, it was about noon by the time we left our campsite.  Our plan was to head over to Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island, via Arthur’s Pass.   We didn’t know anything about them beforehand, but were compelled to stop and have a quick look at the Castle Hill Rock Formations:







The rest of the drive was beautiful forest, but it was rainy and gray, and we took no photos.  When we got to the village of Arthur’s Pass, it was about 5 pm and raining buckets, so we really wanted to grab a hotel room and stay, especially since Arthur’s Pass is a good place to see Kea birds and hear Kiwi birds at night.  Being Boxing Day, the entire village was booked up, so we stopped long enough to get a hot chocolate, see (and later regret that we hadn’t taken a picture of — sorry Kea!) the liquor store called “the wobbly Kea” and move along to a little hotel in Greymouth.   It was nice to sit in a hot tub, take a nice long shower, and watch a movie.  ah, roughing it!

I’ll save the rest for next time, as there seem to be small people here wanting lunch!

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Whew what a trip!  It started off rainy, but we actually had pretty good luck staying dry the entire time.  We got a healthy dose of fun in the sun, admired the amazing scenery, and moved along at a great pace, where we saw a lot, but didn’t feel rushed.  As the Kiwis say, “Sweet as”.

We set out from home in the pouring rain, which was more than a little disconcerting.   The much-feared and dreaded ferry ride was long and boring (they played two movies, but we had only one seat to share between the four of us, and the movies were mostly inaudible) and too wet to really be out on the deck enjoying the scenery, but we did manage one photo before a massive blast of wind and ocean convinced me to put my camera away…

photo from the ferry

We had planned to stay two days kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds, but with the weather not cooperating, we skipped that and drove straight down to Kaikoura, where our whale-watching plan seemed more conducive to rainy conditions.   We had a lovely little campsite right next to the highway and a train track that was bone shakingly active at night!   While the rain did let up, and we stayed nice and dry (thanks to Mark’s skill with a tarp), the ocean was too rough for the whale watching boats, so we spent our time watching the surfers, playing mini-golf, and just enjoying being together.

our cozy site…


the beach across the road…


life in a tent…


so cozy!


pj’s in the morning…






watching the surfers…



scenic coastline…


the seals in this area are so accustomed to humans that you can walk right up to them — I’d be willing to bet you could pet them, but I wouldn’t want to try it.   We saw a seal lying under a palmy bush about 100 years from the beach, but he was so well hidden that most passerby didn’t notice him, which also made him hard to photograph.  Here are a few photos of the less shy New Zealand fur seals…



roadside bird watching… Pukekos!


After a few days in Kaikoura, we moved along for a day trip to Hanmer Springs, a town where the main attraction for us was a giant hot springs facility, with thermal pools of all different temperatures, a cold pool (which was great, as it turned out to be a lovely, hot day) and waterslides.  Apparently I didn’t take any photos, but here is a rock called “frog rock” that we saw by the side of the road after our quick dip in the pools, as we were moving along to Christchurch…


We didn’t actually see much of Christchurch, though we thoroughly enjoyed ‘the teddy factory’, which the kids had seen advertised on tv and were just dying to go visit.  We worked those overpriced, gimmicky bears into an early christmas present, and also hit the Antarctic Centre, which turned out to be the only place we saw penguins on our whole trip.



The Antarctic centre was pretty neat, overall.  We all learned a lot about Antarctica, and even went into a room that had a simulation of a -18C storm blow through… it wasn’t nearly as cold as most of our holidays in Alberta, Canada, but we’ve never done that in shorts and sandals…luckily they gave us all jackets and overshoes, and there was an igloo to hide in for those of us not brave enough to take on the ice slide behind it…


I think I’ll leave off there for now, tune in next time for Christmas at Okains Bay and Akaroa, Arthur’s Pass, Greymouth, Paekakariki (Pancake Rocks), Marahau and Abel Tasman National Park, Takaka/Golden Bay/Totaranui, and finally Nelson with the Ricciardis!

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Lucy just did a post on her blog about a big walk we went on yesterday, with a lot of photos, if anyone is interested… click on the photo below to read it!


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