“Cherished Life” Moments

I call this blog, “Cherished Life by Chelsea” because I used to run a business under a similar name; when I named the blog, I didn’t yet know that I was going to move to New Zealand and get to live one of my dreams. I didn’t understand how many memories I was going to make that I’ll have for a lifetime.

The first time I remember specifically creating a lifelong memory was on our first trip to Paris.

There are, of course, many milestones in life that I’ll remember forever, like our wedding, travels, family holidays, graduating with my degree, my first teaching job, buying our houses, etc., but I remember those in more of a larger context, or I remember specific things about them as a whole.

I’m talking here about experiencing a moment in time, and being so precisely aware of how special that moment is while it’s still happening; it’s almost like time has stopped for just that moment, so that I can step outside of it, look into it, and really realize how valuable it is. Have you ever experienced anything like that?

The first time I created a memory like that was during the last hour of a Paris City Bike tour, on a Seine River cruise, at dusk, as we sailed past the Eiffel Tower, and I saw it sparkle for the first time. Greg was standing behind me, and I was leaning against the rail of the front of the boat, with the perfect view. It was warm, and there was a gentle breeze coming off the water. Everyone else on the boat sighed in wonder as the tower began to sparkle, and I remember distinctly thinking, “I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

We toured the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and got to stand in “the circle” where the biggest country artists of all time have performed, and sing an acapella “Amazing Grace” in two-part harmony; as I felt the spot light on my face, and listened to our voices echo throughout the rows and fill the room, I created another lifelong cherished moment.

There are so many mundane moments in life, where we do the same things we always do, and we can’t or don’t choose to remember what’s different about one day from the next. It’s often the escape from the mundane that’s the most memorable. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle now too many times to count, and although I still appreciate it and savour it each time, none of those times specifically stick out to me as much as that first time does, when I was forever imprinting that memory into my mind. Singing “Amazing Grace” on stage has happened several times in our lives as well, but singing it on the Opry stage… I knew I would cherish that for a lifetime.

Moving across the world has brought me more of those cherished moments, and I’m so grateful for them.

Every time we walk from our house down to the ocean after dinner, and stick our toes in the sand, I realize how fortunate we are to be able to do that. When we just grab our wine glasses and walk down to the ocean with friends to sit on the beach or stand in the water while we visit – I cherish those moments.

We were recently wake boarding and buiscuiting on a clear, warm, bright blue lake, next to some volcanoes, in January, and we sat in a natural hot pool in a corner of the same lake, with kind and generous friends who have taken us in, and brought us along to these places. We cherished that moment.

One of my most recent cherished moments was at the UB40 concert I worked. We closed the bar down shortly after 9pm on the police’s call, but the band was still scheduled until 10pm. We did as much clean up as we could for the time being, and then our manager told us to go enjoy the concert until 10pm. We grabbed a glass of red wine, and headed up into the tanks that overlook the park area of the winery where the stage was. (Those tanks also happen to be for red wine.) We got to dance and sing, and drink red wine, as UB40 sang their famous, “Red, Red Wine.” During that song, I knew I was creating another memory that I will truly cherish for a lifetime.

We don’t make a lot of money here, and it feels like we’re living on borrowed time until our savings/credit run out. We left our careers, and our circles and routines in Canada to make a move that could have, or could still, turn out badly in the end, or leave us with nothing to our names. It’s not always easy or perfect, but it’s in moments like that one – when I looked at my life for that three minutes, in New Zealand, where I live, at the winery where I work, with my amazing new friends and colleagues, dancing and singing to “Red Red Wine” in the red wine tanks, with red, red wine, being sung by a famous band that I got to meet the day before – when I realize that no matter what happens, this risk we took of coming here, will have already been worth it. That song will remind me of my time in New Zealand, and at Church Road, for as long as I can still hear it. I’m realizing that these cherished moments in life can’t be bought. They just happen, and when I stop to recognize them, I’m able to be grateful for them.

I was fortunate enough this week to participate as the Cellar team opened the customary bubbly to kick off the 2019 vintage; we all poured the remainder of our glasses into the first load of grapes. I got to watch the first crush happen, and taste the juice as it was pouring from the press. I’ve been in the winery as much as possible this week, watching, asking questions and learning so much, and I’ll continue soaking up every opportunity I get. Greg and I will both cherish the memories of our first vintage.

I don’t know how long we’ll stay here, or where we’ll go from here. I don’t know how long we’ll stay in the wine industry. I don’t know what’s going to happen in our future, or with our finances, or our house back in Canada, or anything else. I do my best not to get too caught up in the future, and to let each day worry about itself. (That struggle is easily another post of its own!)

What I do know though, is that these memories we’re making are more valuable than money can buy; they’re shaping us, and changing us. These experiences are impacting us in meaningful ways, and giving us more moments that really remind us to stop, take it in, and cherish life . . . and we feel pretty blessed, and grateful for all of them.

Napier, New Zealand: The Art Deco City

This is an exciting blog post for me, as I get to highlight the city Greg and I call home in New Zealand. (The 1920’s/1930’s photos you’ve seen of us will make more sense once you’ve read this article as well!)

Nothing will prepare you for what Lonely Planet describes as the ‘charismatic’ New Zealand city that ‘can provoke a Great Gatsby swagger in the least romantic soul’.

https://www.artdeconapier.com/

(Facts in this article are taken from this website, as well as what I’ve learned from Napier citizens during our time here.)

The Art Deco story all began when the people of Hawke’s Bay experienced a devastating earthquake on the 3rd of February, 1931. The quake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, and was the largest in New Zealand’s history. It killed 261 people in the Bay, 162 of which were from Napier City. After the quake struck at 10:47am, fires broke out in the cities of Hastings and Napier. Hastings was able to control their fires, but Napier wasn’t, and the city was largely destroyed.

The land shifted and tilted up 7 feet, and the sea line extended out east. According to artdeconapier.com, Napier gained 5575 acres of land. The land was drained and is now where a lot of our city sits, including the new downtown, and the Airport.

The people rebuilt the city in the early 30’s, with what was the popular 20’s fashion at the time, Art Deco. Our city is filled with Art Deco buildings and street signs, gardens and homes, artwork, and lots of old cars we see driving around during the festival, and all year. It’s a very cute city to visit, and is a stop for most cruises that come through. The most photographed building and statue in New Zealand are in Napier.

The Art Deco Festival is an annual event that allows the citizens of Napier to showcase the history of their home, share their story of survival, and celebrate it’s rebirth. It’s a time for people to come together as a small community, and honour the past in a meaningful and fun way! Kiwis come from all over New Zealand to participate in the festival; tourists come from Australia, and even places as far as Europe to participate! The 2019 festival was the 31st annual celebration, and according to media.newzealand.com, there were over 300 events, and 40,000 guests in attendance.

There were both ticketed and free events to participate in. We kicked the festival off with an Art Deco Valentine’s Day; we had a walk around after dinner, and some wine at a cool wine bar in town where we listened to old music and watched the customers dance the night away.

Greg and I went to the opening ceremony on the Friday evening with friends, which consisted of the first fly over of the old war planes. They did tricks and put on a show that everyone gathered along the shoreline to watch.

Almost everyone who’s out gets involved in the festival. As we sat on the beach with our friends later that night and looked around, it actually felt like it could have been the 1930’s.

Little kids were dressed in their 20’s/30’s gear and playing catch by the ocean with their parents. A group of teens were dressed the part, lazing on the beach nearby, drinking and laughing. Seniors had old tables and chairs set out on the lawn, with full spreads of classic China and glassware, and were enjoying a picnic while decked out in top hats and pearls.

There was a live orchestra and band performing 1930’s music, and people were dancing in the parks and in the streets. As we made our way around, we took time to stop for a chat with a familiar face, admire a beautiful car, have a photo, or just take it all in with the numerous groups of others around us doing the same.

Walking through the downtown streets, seeing every person in 1930’s dress, looking at the old buildings and cars, and hearing the music, I felt like we’d all travelled back in time.

We also spent some time walking around on Saturday, seeing the old car parade, old motorcycles, and a fashion show.

There were numerous musical groups to be spotted all around town.

We attended the Gatsby Picnic on Sunday, and had our lunch there.

We were, again, awed and entertained to see how many people went all out to participate in this event. We’d heard that many of them go each year at 4:00am to get the best spots and set up their themed gazebos. Some of them were absolutely amazing!

Being part of the festival was a special experience, to say the least. We both talked about how an event like this just wouldn’t work if the people didn’t get so into it. I believe the enthusiasm the locals show, young and old alike, is what makes the festival really successful each year. There’s something truly magical about watching an entire community fully embrace the spirit of the time, and come together in a significant way.

We loved Napier already, but celebrating it’s rebirth as part of the community this festival made us love it even more.

Tauranga & The Coramandel

Our final summer road trip ended up being 3 nights long, thanks to a kind soul making my roster work for me to travel, and thanks to Greg’s employer being flexible with his weekend. With that much time, we were able to go a bit farther than we had previously gone, and we decided to head up to Tauranga, and the Coramandel, with some specific sights in mind.

Some generous and helpful friends of ours loaded us up with all the camping gear we could possibly need and want, and sent us on our way!

We left town after work on Friday night, and ate our spaghetti in the car! We stopped in Rotarua to grab a beer for Greg. You non-Kiwis may be thinking, “excuse me, grab what?” Apparently it’s legal to drink alcohol in the vehicle in most places in NZ, as long as someone else is driving. Yeah. (Kiwis, if I’ve misunderstood this, correct me, please!) We hadn’t done it yet, but we figured we should have the experience at least once. (Cause we don’t have enough opportunity to drink here as it is. #sarcasm) It felt really wrong, but when in NZ… cheers to road trip beers!

We arrived in Tauranga where some new friends, R and S, put us up for the night. We shared some wine and had a great visit with them on their beautiful patio before bed.

The next morning, we headed to the beach by their place, Papamoa Beach, and enjoyed some white sand, sun, and Tuatua catching!

We had heard of catching tuatuas from a couple of people, but didn’t really understand how to do it until we got into the water. We saw some others with buckets out about thigh deep, and wandered out as far as they were. Greg started digging his toes around in the sand until he felt what seemed to be a rock underneath, and then picked it up to find out it was a Tuatua! They are similar to muscles or clams. I tried and found a few myself! The limit is 150 per person, per day, so Greg set out to get a small bucket full for dinner. It was a new, unique experience for both of us, and so cool to try.

We had an amazing brunch with R and S, and then headed into Tauranga, where we climbed Mount Maunganui.

It was a bit cloudy, which ended up being to our benefit, as it was 27°C, very muggy, and we came down drenched in sweat! The views at the top were gorgeous, and I would highly recommend climbing it if you’re ever there. Just make sure you have decent shoes, some water, and a relative level of fitness.

We did some shopping afterwards, and then Greg and I headed to visit some Canadian/Kiwi friends for dinner! It was so great to spend the evening with some familiar faces from Canada, and to glean some wisdom from people who have moved abroad, and experienced so many of the same things as we have, but are years ahead of us on the journey. (Greg also cooked the Tuatuas, and they were pretty flavourful! You can see some in the bowl between us.)

We finished the evening with a walk to the beach to watch the girls run and enjoy the cool breeze. We left Tauranga around 8:30pm to finish our treck to Hahei in the Coramandel, where we camped at the Seabreeze Holiday Resort. The road was extremely windy to get up there, but was nothing we weren’t prepared for by now. We arrived and got the tent set up, and made it to bed before midnight.

Sunday was a relaxing morning of sleeping in, coffee and pancakes. The camp facilities at Seabreeze were amazing to me! I guess they are quite typical here, and from what we’ve heard, some resorts are better than others, but Greg and I were blown away at the amenities this place had. They had a large communal building with several bathroom stalls and shower stalls (there was never a line in the 2 days we were there). They had a big kitchen area with 4 fridges/freezers, about 6 sinks (dish soap provided), 6 stove tops (some pans provided), several microwaves and kettles, toasters, plug-ins where people charged their phones, and even a tv room with couches and chairs.

This place would be amazing to camp at with groups of friends! I’ve never had such a great experience tenting. It honestly reminded me of being at summer camp. We slept in our tent, but we headed to the main building just down the path whenever we wanted to cook, do dishes, use the toilet, or get something from the fridge. We also met a few nice people in the kitchen as well; I really like how this style of camping promotes community and making new friends. A person could have privacy in their site if they preferred, but could also head to the main building to meet others if he or she wanted. It was awesome! Canada could learn from this.

Sunday afternoon, Greg and I headed to Cathedral Cove. We parked and walked the 25 minutes in with our beach gear. We planned to stay for a while and enjoy it, instead of just getting some photos and leaving. I’m glad we did! We had a great afternoon. It was partially cloudy, which allowed us to stay longer without burning to a crisp in the NZ sun. (We still burnt a bit!) Cathedral Cove is beautiful, and a NZ must do.

We wanted to go to Hot Water Beach as well, so we left Cathedral Cove in the late afternoon, with the plan of heading over to HWB, not realizing that we were in the wrong tide window for it to work. We had gotten there too late, and the water was up high enough to cover most of the hot spots. We left with the plan of returning in the morning before heading home.

As it turned out, there was a brewery on site at Seabreeze, so obviously, Greg was pretty happy about that. We cleaned up and headed over for some pints and hot chips before dinner. It was a nice place to relax on site at our resort!

We had a nice steak dinner, cooked on the communal BBQ at the resort, and enjoyed some star gazing before bed.

The stars were so bright and beautiful that far out of town. It felt like we could see every star in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve learned that down here we can see the Southern Cross, the constellation on NZ’s flag, but it can’t be seen from Canada. We can’t see the Big Dipper from down here.

Another random piece of information for the Canadian readers is that they have these creatures here called “cicadas.” They essentially sound like crickets, but they chirp in the day, from dawn till dusk, and are about ten times louder than crickets. I usually don’t mind them, but while sleeping in the tent, they were so loud in the early evening and morning that we had to put earplugs in. Thankfully I had 2 sets in my bag from the flight over!

On Monday morning, after another round of pancakes, we packed up and headed to Hot Water Beach, at the appropriate time this time! In order to access the hot springs under the sand, one needs to be there either 2 hours before or after low tide. We only had a bucket, but Greg started digging.

Our neighbours in the next hole told us the water beneath the surface needs to be hot right at the beginning of digging. If the water coming up is cold, there is no hot spring under that spot. We had cold water, so we moved to another spot, and started digging again. Those same neighbours lent us their spade, so Greg was able to do a more efficient dig.

The water was warm in the new spot, so Greg kept digging deeper and deeper until we had a sizeable pool to sit in. There was a really noticeable hot spot on the left side of our pool, and it was so hot that it was burning my elbow and waist on the left side. I had to keep shuffling the sand around and moving the water throughout the pool, just like trying to warm up the bath water! We just dug a hole in the sand and made our own hot tub with geothermal heat. NZ has got some amazing things to do!

As our neighbours were so kind to give us tips and lend us their spade, we gave them some of our wine, and had a nice visit with them. Some other neighbours had a hole that was so hot they couldn’t even go in it, and we felt bad for them. As we had to leave a bit early to get home for a party that evening, we gave them our hole, and they were quite thankful.

We enjoyed the scenery on the drive home, and I took my turn to enjoy a nice wine pairing with my lunch in the car (still so odd…). We got home 25 minutes before our friends arrived at our place, and we finished off the weekend with a fun farewell party with friends!

It was a great long weekend, and finale to our summer travels. I’m so looking forward to the next time we get to go exploring in more of this amazing country we’re calling home.

Road Trip to Rotorua

After our weekend in Welly, we were anxious to have more of a relaxing trip for our next getaway; fortunately for us, some of our new, good friends, R and A, had invited us up to their bach (lakehouse, or “cabin,” for you Canadians) for a weekend. We were excited to do something more in the realm of what we would normally do for a summer holiday – get to the lake!

We had been warned how much Rotorua stinks, so we were prepared for the smell of sulphur in the air. The smell is due to all of the natural geothermal activity in the area. We got out of the car, and soon realized it was not as bad as we figured it would be. Besides, we figured it was a great place to fart, because nobody would ever know the difference! I had to remind Greg that the smell of the air unfortunately didn’t hide the sound of the farting though. 😂

We did a cultural experience on Saturday, at the Living Māori Village of Whakarewarewa (pronounced not at all how a Canadian would read it). We’ve been slowly learning more of how to pronounce Māori letters, and we learned a bit more from our tour guide at the village. Our experience included touring the village, which is still a functioning home to many people, learning the history of the place and the culture, and eating a “Hangi” meal, prepared in the geothermal steam oven underground.

Our favourite part of the experience was the show, in which we saw songs and dances, as well as the famous, “Haka.”

Traditionally the Haka was used to psych the warriors up for battle, both physically and mentally, and to scare and intimidate opponents. (Māori friends, please correct me if I’m wrong on any of this cultural information!) It was an honour to finally get to see it performed, and to enjoy some other songs and dances. They were amazingly talented people, and we loved every minute of it.

We headed out to the bach with our friends after the cultural show, and went out on the boat for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening. Greg tried out “the disc,” which is a round piece of wood that goes behind the boat.

He didn’t try the 2X4 though, which they call “the plank,” as it’s apparently “next level,” and the smaller of the two discs proved challenging enough! I even got out on the biscuit, because I figured, when in NZ, take the chance to ride the biscuit!

We loved “champagne pool,” which was a little geothermal pool along one edge of a small bay in the lake. It has very hot water coming out of a rock in the side, and it heats up the pool like a hot tub. We relaxed in there and had fruit, cheese and crackers! Greg did some cliff jumping with R, and we swam in the lake when we needed to cool down. Greg commented on how surreal the experience was to him, and it definitely was one we will remember!

For dinner we had smoked trout that R had caught that morning, a steak dinner, and wine on the deck, overlooking the lake, next to a fire. We even had some roasted marshmallows!

Our friends took us for a surprise adventure after dark. We hopped in the car, and then walked down a dark road until we saw them… glow worms! I’d been hearing about these bright and beautiful creatures from people in the cellar door and had become quite curious about them, so I was happily surprised to get to see some for myself! They are part of the arachnid family, (Greg wasn’t scared of them though, and even touched one), and they glow in the dark! It was too dark for me to capture them in a photo.

Our day was so relaxing and fun; it had all the elements of a typical getaway weekend at the lake for us, plus so many new, cool, unique to New Zealand elements, and we felt right at home. I slept SO well that night.

Our friends cooked us pancakes in the morning, and after some cards, we went back out for a day on the boat, filled with more picnics, hiking, and watching the girls do silly tricks on the biscuit and swing from a rope into the water, before packing up and heading home.

We stopped to do a short walk to Huka Falls on the way home, as a quick waterfall stop is something one can do in New Zealand!

Overall, we loved Rotorua, the culture we experienced, the feel of the city, and most of all, being at the lake and making memories with good friends.

A Weekend in Wellington

We’ve had a very busy January at work (and by “we” I mean “me,” as Greg’s been enjoying all of the public holidays). I’m used to having two weeks off over Christmas and New Years, and then spending the next few weeks of work struggling to get out of bed and motivate myself to get back into the routine, after having to dig my car of out of the snow in the dark, minus 40 weather. This year, of course, with an industry and country change, brought a big life change, and a significant change to my January! I’ve not had more than two days off in a row in a long while, (maybe at all since I started my job), but with that, comes no dread of returning to work, and no broken routine. It’s a good thing I love what I’m doing! January is one of the busiest months in the Cellar Door, and we’ve been working hard, for long hours, in the heat! We’ve had many days in a row of higher than 30 degree weather, and heaps of sunshine. I’ve been spending my mornings going for jogs along the ocean instead of digging my car out of the snow, and getting sun burnt instead of frost bitten!

With all of that work, I’ve been very tired, but when Greg and I realized I had a weekend off, we decided we needed to take advantage of it and go see some more of this beautiful country we’re calling “home.” As we did a “rustic” trip last time (slept in the car, next to a stream on a mountain and hiked 20kms), we decided to do a city trip this time. We chose Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, a four hour drive for us; on route, there is the Wairarapa wine region, with Martinborough in it, famous for its Pinot Noir, something Hawke’s Bay is too warm to do much of.

We left early Saturday morning and headed through many cute little towns on the way to Martinborough. We wanted to fit in a few wineries before our 1:00pm appointment at Ata Rangi.

We visited Poppies, Vynfields, and Schubert during the lunch hour. They were all very small production, beautiful places, and featured the Pinot Noir we were after.

We ran into a family at Poppies that lives in Wellington, that I had done a tasting with at Church Road recently; we all recognized each other, and stopped to chat! They told Greg how great of a time they had with me, and that they could tell how passionate I am about wine and the process of making it. That’s definitely true, and I’m glad it comes through to people who visit me in the Cellar Door!

We had a beautiful, seated tasting, with only 10 people at Ata Rangi, and got to hear a bit of their history, as well as the history of Martinborough.

After Martinborough, we headed into Welly! The first stop was the mall, where I bought some necessities that are harder to find in Hawke’s Bay, and looked for some clothes. Greg and I are noticing that the styles here are very different than in Europe or North America. I didn’t find much, but got a few things. We checked into our Airbnb in Island Bay, and then headed into downtown.

We had a walk around the waterfront, checked out Cuba Street and the candy store, Nicnacs, before having a pint at Hashigo Zake, a craft beer bar.

We had dinner at Chow, an Asian inspired place, that surprisingly was able to accommodate me very well. We loved their food, and atmosphere.

We finished the evening at Noble Rot, a famous wine bar in Wellington, where we got a Napa Chardonnay, just to remember what they taste like, and did a blind flight of three reds from around the world. We did decently well on our guesses, and enjoyed having some red wine from the old world again.

Sunday morning, we slept in a tiny bit, but had too much on the agenda to laze around! We started with a trip to the top of Mount Victoria for 360 degree views of the city. It was beautiful up there, and definitely worth a see!

We checked out the Te Papa Museum, where we learned about some of New Zealand’s history in the First World War, and saw their amazing, more than double life size models of soldiers; they have been crafted in incredible detail!

Next, we headed to the waterfront to walk more of it, and grabbed a coffee. This was a relaxing part of the day, and was a peaceful stroll.

The wind was intense! I had been warned of the Wellington wind, but didn’t quite comprehend how fast it actually is! I literally had to hold my sunglasses on my head because they were blowing off. The wind actually pushed us along if it was behind, and we had to lean into it if it was in front. I had to tuck my shirt into the front of my pants to prevent it from whipping up!

We eventually found the cute huts at Oriental Bay, and then headed to do some breweries for Greg!

Wellington has a really big craft beer scene. We went to Husk first, that features Choice Bros brewing, and great food, and then to Whistling Sisters. Greg found most of the beer very good; his favourites still lie in other parts of the world, but he really liked lots of the Welly ones.

We did some wine shopping at Moore Wilson’s and Glengarry, and were excited to find some wine from other parts of the world. We’ve got a craving for a good Napa or Sonoma red, but we haven’t found that yet. (Do we want it just because we can’t find it?)

The last stop was at Starbucks, for the New Zealand souvenir mug, and an Americano. To be honest, I’m starting to get used to New Zealand’s amazing coffee, and how rich and velvety it is, with a nice foam to it, that I found the Americano a bit lacking; however, it was a weird sized cup and had too much water for the amount of espresso, and it also didn’t have the same flavour as in Canada. I don’t blame anyone, but they’re competing with so many other amazing coffee shops; if Starbucks wants to become more popular here, they need to up their game. (Disclaimer: I will always love Starbucks.) We can’t use our app or gold cards here, and they don’t have the oatmeal, but I did get my Americano free with my mug. The mug was $30 here (yikes) but Switzerland still takes the prize for “most expensive we’ve seen” at somewhere around $32 – $34 Canadian. The Starbucks people probably think I died, seeing as how my gold card, that used to get several purchases a week, went from full on, to absolutely nothing the day I left Canada. If anyone from Starbucks is reading this, I am alive, and I still love you.

We enjoyed the ride home, as it is a really beautiful drive through mountains, with lush greenery, and several cute towns, one of which won New Zealand’s most scenic town recently.

I said to Greg before the trip that I wanted to have a relaxing weekend in Wellington, as I have been so tired from work and not sleeping well due to our almost 30 degree nights (poor me, right?). If you know me though, I always try and fit as much in as possible on a trip, because I like to take advantage of being in the place. I have to go back more than once to be able to fully relax in any place! This weekend, no matter how much I thought we’d relax, was not relaxing, but it was full of sight seeing, and we felt like we were on holiday! I said to Greg at one point, “doesn’t it feel like we just flew here and we have to fly back to Canada soon? But we don’t. We will just drive back home and go to work tomorrow.”

I’ve also noticed there’s nothing that makes me feel more at home in Napier than leaving it, and then getting that comfortable feeling of coming home when we return to Hawke’s Bay. We’ve definitely ended up living in the right place for us, and it’s feeling more like home every day.

Our weekend in Wellington was short and sweet, and we’re happy to have seen the city; we’re also happy to be home… until the next time!

A Merry Kiwi Christmas

We just celebrated our first warm Christmas in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, 2018, and it was wonderful. When we first chose our moving date, and I saw we were to arrive in Hawke’s Bay on the 13th of November, I said something very similar to the following to Greg. “We’re getting there so close to Christmas that we’re not going to have any time to meet people and make any friends who will invite us. We’re going to spend Christmas alone.” The many groups prior to Christmas, and the three wonderful groups of friends we spent Christmas Eve and Day with are yet another set of blessings we’ve received in this move. ❤️

Prior to Christmas, we were fortunate to celebrate with several work parties! Church Road had a formal party at the Napier Prison in November, that we were happy to attend, and enjoyed a lot! Then, during our December staff meeting, they gave us some quick notes, then took us down to our new container bar outside and surprised us all with another Christmas party, complete with Christmas songs, Christmas crackers, silly hats, bubbles, cocktails, and loads of food. They paid us for the time too! Then they sent us all home with several bottles of wine as Christmas gifts. We celebrated once more on the 23rd at a pub near our house with the Cellar Door and restaurant staff! Greg’s winery, Linden, also threw a Christmas dinner at an Indian place in Napier, and provided us with as much food and drink as we wanted, and great conversation and celebration.

Secondly, our connect group through our church had a Christmas BBQ with lots of great food, laughter and fun. We really enjoy the time we get to spend with our new friends, and the more we get to know them, the more we appreciate them! We’ve been honoured to be welcomed into the group by everyone. We had a gift exchange and I came away with a beautiful, Maori patterned picture of New Zealand, drawn by one of the guys who is an artist.

On the 23rd evening, Greg and I made the traditional Kiwi Christmas dessert, Pavlova. We had never seen one or tried one before, but we wanted to, and my colleagues kept saying, “oh you can’t buy one, you have to make one!” They gave me some recipes, so we set out to make it happen.

Christmas Eve was a great day; we both worked, and I did my first tour of the winery on my own, which was a great accomplishment for me. A few of us baked Christmas cookies and celebrated with some wine and baking after work! Greg and I had been planning to have Christmas Fettucine all year, like they do in my favourite movie, “The Holiday.”

We had the pasta for supper, watched the movie, and then went to join our new friend, L, with some others we had met before for dinner. We had great food, and stayed until after midnight. We learned that in many South American cultures, and some European ones, they celebrate Christmas at midnight! We watched the clock and had a Christmas toast at midnight before opening presents. Some of them had even gotten little gifts for us, which was so sweet. Finally, we got Kiwi approval on our Pavlova.

Unfortunately, it rained so much, all day on Christmas Eve! The weather forecast said there was to be a 100% chance of rain on Christmas Day. As this was our first warm Christmas, I had been dreaming of getting to the beach, and being able to wear shorts and sit in the sun. It sure didn’t look good, but I knew it was still possible; I was definitely praying for some sun.

On Christmas morning, we did a video chat with Greg’s family, who were all together after their lunch. It was nice to say hello to everyone, and to see their faces. It was still raining, and the forecast was not looking good.

We joined a family from church for lunch, who included us with their parents, siblings, children and nieces and nephews. I got to watch the children open their gifts, and run around playing with them, which reminded me a lot of being with our family. It was a really nice experience to sit together with a whole, extended family at their Christmas table, and share in a meal on one of the most special days of the year. They made us feel very welcomed, and were all so friendly. While we were there, the rain stopped, and the sun came out!

We had to go home in the afternoon to prepare some food for our evening meal, but we took the time to get to the beach. We walked down to the ocean, and enjoyed the sun and water! Greg swam, and I waded, and it was so warm and lovely and beautiful and perfect. Getting a tan on Christmas was a great gift for me! I loved my hour and a bit at the beach and was so thankful to experience that!

In the late afternoon, we headed off to see our other friends, R & A, where we celebrated with their two wonderful daughters, their Grandma and Grandpa, and a brother and sister-in-law. Everyone was, again, so friendly and welcoming to us, and made us feel like part of the family. The weather was still so beautiful out that we enjoyed drinks and charcuterie on the patio while R BBQ’d, and the girls made Kiwi snow angels 😂 (dish soap on the trampoline)!

We had so much food! They BBQ’d a leg of lamb and chicken, which were both amazing, and had several salads. We contributed a broccoli salad and stuffing balls from Canada. We had a huge array of desserts as well, including a fruit cake, which I normally don’t like, but it had coffee and chocolate in it, with icing on top, and was so good! Our Pavlova was a bit over-iced this time, so it lost some of the crispness, but still tasted good. We played some Twister, Jenga, and opened gifts, and were again honoured to receive a very throughtful, Kiwi book of some of the history of where we live! They even sent us home with some of Grandma’s recipes, and Christmas left overs that we’ll get to have for lunch this week.

When we got home, we opened gifts that we had been given by two of the couples in our connect group for Christmas. They knew we wouldn’t have many presents to open this year, and wanted us to have a little something for Christmas Day. One of them gave me a really nice candle that I had mentioned wanting a couple of weeks back, but didn’t have the budget for. She even remembered what my favourite scent was! The other gave us some cute Kiwi coasters, fresh cherries, a candle jacket with artwork that symbolizes life, love and new beginnings, and some quality chocolate bars, one flavoured with Canadian Maple syrup, and the other flavoured with Hawke’s Bay berries, to show where we’ve come from and where we are beginning our new year. I was so touched by both of these gifts, and our day ended with us feeling so unbelievably blessed at how loved we were this Christmas.

We got to speak to my family over video on our Boxing Day, which was their Christmas. It was special to get to have a chat all together, from afar.

I had been so concerned that we wouldn’t have friends, or wouldn’t be invited for Christmas, and all for naught. We were part of SO much celebrating, and received so many generous and thoughtful gifts. I even got my sunny, warm beach experience, despite the weather forecast saying it wasn’t going to happen. Christmas Day, a day to remember the birth of baby Jesus, was one more example of God’s blessings in this move. ❤️

It was a very wonderful, blessed, Merry Kiwi Christmas, and one I’ll remember as long as I live.

(Pictured above is a Pohutukawa Tree, that blooms in beautiful, bright red, over the Christmas season, giving it the nickname of the New Zealand Christmas Tree.)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

We completed our first official day hike here in New Zealand on the 8th of December, and it was sunny and warm! We’re not used to warm December dates yet, but they’re fabulous.

Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous tracks in New Zealand, and I had seen pictures of some of the scenery on Instagram before we even knew what it was and thought, “I want to go there.” It’s a 19.4 km day hike to the summit of a volcano, past the Emerald lakes and down through somewhat of a rainforest.

I was a bit concerned about the difficulty level, as we had heard some mixed reviews on how difficult the hike is. There is a sign on the trail that warns people who are not fit enough to turn back. It does include some fairly steep climbs, as well as some descents with loose footing. The tour companies suggest it will take 6 to 8 hours. Some people I spoke to said it took them upwards of that, and that they were sore for a week, or that they lost toenails. People seemed to be shocked that we were planning to do it on a weekend in between work, so their reactions to our announcement of the plan was a bit concerning. We got set up with all the right gear by some generous friends who had also done it; we made sure we were well fed and sunscreened, and our friends told us we’d be fine!

We had driven up to the mountain the night before and slept in the car in a campsite. We got up at 6:00am and had pancakes for breakfast, thanks to my husband!

There are a few shuttling options, but we went with Tongariro Expeditions’ one way option. We parked the car at the end of the hike, and then took the 8:30am shuttle to the beginning of the hike. I went with this option due to another blogger suggesting it, and I was glad we did the one way shuttle and didn’t have to wait for another shuttle at the end. What they didn’t tell us though, was that after getting off the trail we still had a ways to walk to our vehicle; the 19.4 km trail ended up being over 23 kms according to my FitBit.

We hit the trail at 8:48am. It took the first kilometre or so to adjust the backpacks and distribute the weight properly, so we were off to a bit of a slow start, but once we figured that part out, we were well on our way.

The hike begins with a nice, gradual incline into the mountain, and passes Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings.

From there, the first steep climb begins. On the pamphlets and maps they give you, it says it will take an hour to do this climb. We completed it in 35 minutes. The views from the top are amazing!

There is a 15 minute plateau on which we were able to spread out from the rest of the groups on the trail and catch our breath a bit before the next climb, the “Devil’s Staircase.”

It was supposed to take 30 minutes, but we climbed it in about 18.

For a person who doesn’t normally exercise, this would take at least the recommended time, or longer, if one was stopping for rests part way up. We are quite fit, and it was still a very good work out getting up the mountain! It’s not a walk to be taken lightly.

Once at the top, we were able to see the Emerald Lakes in the distance, which were my favourite part of the track. Most people eat lunch at the top, but we decided to continue to the lakes before stopping for lunch, as it was only about 11:00am. Walking along the edge of the crater was really cool!

The climb down to the lakes required an adjustment in walking, as it was about a 45 degree slope with very loose gravel and volcanic sand. We slid with every step. I fell 3 times, but it wasn’t a far fall seeing as how the angle was so extreme that my hands were so close to the ground anyways. Eventually we got used to the sliding and began adjusting for it as we learned how to transfer our weight properly.

We had an enjoyable lunch on the rocks overlooking the lakes, and took the most photos around there. It was really windy! Some days, if the weather is unfavourable, people have to do the crater walk (pictured above) on their hands and knees.

The above photo was our lunch spot!

The lakes were amazing, as you can see.

Once we passed the lakes, we used one of the many toilet stops. No TP was supplied, but thankfully, I had my own! We had to wait in line. I couldn’t believe how many people were on this track!

Then we began the long descent down. The views were great at the top, but the trail down was long. This was the most difficult part for me, as my feet kept hitting the fronts of my shoes, leading to very sore toes. It was also a tedious climb down with similar scenery for a couple of hours, until we got into the rainforest area at the end.

We finished with a walk next to a beautiful, rushing stream, exited the trail at 2:44pm, and then, of course, added on the longer walk to the car.

We were surprised we’d finished so early based on the expected time, but I believe we saved a lot of time during the two inclines; we took lots of time to enjoy lunch and stop for photos, and didn’t rush ourselves, but we still finished in 5 hours and 56 minutes.

We had originally planned to stay another night in the car, but as we finished early, we went to Taupo to some natural hot springs to refresh our sore muscles and relax, and then decided to drive back for a hot shower, and a nice, comfortable sleep in a real bed. Wow, did we ever sleep well that night!

In conclusion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is amazing, and although I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fit, up for a good physical challenge, or is a regular hiker. It definitely requires a certain level of fitness to be enjoyable and safe, and the proper gear, clothing and food/water is essential. Planning ahead for transportation, and leaving lots of time to do the track is important, as I believe 6 to 8 hours is a reasonable expectation for time. We were also fortunate to have amazing weather, and that is key as well. We finished off the night with a celebratory wine from the winery I work at.

Happy exploring blog family, and cheers!