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.)

Our Australian Stop Over Part One: Sydney

On “our way” to New Zealand, we figured we would stop over in Australia, as we had never been there, and had considered living there. We did five days in Sydney, three in the Barossa Valley, and three in McLaren Vale, all at Airbnb’s. We had many exciting and great experiences, a few annoying and frustrating experiences, and overall, a great adventure. Read on for an overview of the highlights (and lowlights) of our trip.

To begin, the flights were long. So long! We left our families in Saskatchewan with tears, knowing we wouldn’t see many of them for a long time. We flew to Calgary, then L.A., and then finally on to Sydney. It was a 15 hour flight from L.A. to Sydney, and we spent well over 24 hours in travel. We left on Oct. 30th, and arrived on Nov. 1st, leaving Halloween as only a mist that we quickly passed through. Amazingly, the flight to Sydney wasn’t full, and we had three seats to just the two of us. We were able to take turns lying down across the seats, and actually got a bit of sleep. I also greatly enjoyed Virgin Australia as an airline.

We picked up our rental, and on the other side of the car and road as we were used to, hesitantly headed to our Airbnb in the Surry Hills area of Sydney. This is a trendy area that came highly recommended, but we didn’t enjoy it at all. I recommend staying in the Bondi Beach area if you plan to go to the beach a lot, or in Circular Quay or The Rocks, if you want to be around the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and other main attractions.

Our Airbnb in Sydney was also the worst we’ve ever stayed in. It was so dirty; there were spots of old food and goop on the tables and walls, dirt and dust all over the carpet and tiles, and black mould on the bathroom walls and in the shower. There was no garbage can, anywhere in the unit. I bought a hair dryer, and we ended up turning the box into our garbage. There were no tea towels or washing towels, there were two knives for cooking, one of which had the tip broken off. There was one wine glass… so we shared it. The worst part of all, is that we were on an extremely busy street, and the window was broken. The frame was hanging out of the side of the building, leaving an inch gap along the sides and top. We slept with ear plugs in the whole time! Long story short, we complained to Airbnb and were given a partial refund. Our friends who recently moved to Sydney have seen much worse places on their house hunt; apparently Sydney needs to up its standards. Our friend made a comment about how Australia is a first world country, but many Sydney residents live like it’s a third world country. I was quite disappointed in that, and I feel it’s something tourists should be aware of.


Bondi Beach

We came to Australia in their spring, from reasonably chilly weather in Canada, so we hit the beach on day one! Bondi Beach is amazing, and huge, and beautiful, with white sand, blue water, big waves, a stunning view, and lots of shops and restaurants along the street.

The parking fee is outrageous! There is a lot there, but it costs $15 for 2 hours. To spend a day at the beach is upwards of $45 in parking alone. If you plan to go to the beach, stay in that area and walk! Thankfully, the parking machines were down for two of three visits on our trip, and we paid only once, saving us a lot! I loved Bondi Beach, and the time we spent there. The water is much cooler than in places like Hawaii, but it is warmer than in Canada. There are surfers to watch, and lots of people. We were pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of public toilets, water fountains, showers, and even free wifi at the beaches in Australia. We enjoyed two of the cafes and restaurants along the beach during our visits too.


Opera House and Harbour Bridge

These are two main sights that Sydney is known for, so we visited them several times and had views of them from many different angles, bars and restaurants. If you stay in the Circular Quay or The Rocks areas, you can easily walk to both of these. They are beautiful and worth a see! If you like tours, you can tour the Opera House for roughly $45/each. We chose not to. There are a few bars and restaurants right alongside the Opera House, that we enjoyed a few times. Parking in the lot there is $16/hour! When my parking costs are higher than my alcohol costs, that’s a problem for me. If you book online ahead of time for any Wilson lot, you can get discounted parking, so if you know where you’re going to be, I suggest doing that!

You can also walk on top of the Harbour Bridge for the Bridge Climb if you have $300/each to spend, or you can go halfway up for half price. We climbed one of the towers on the bridge that its creators added to make it look similar to the Tower Bridge in London. The climb was a few hundred stairs, and only $15/each.


Sydney Tower Eye

We were being very budget conscious on this trip, due to our move, but we decided to do one nice dinner out, and we chose the 360 Bar and Dining in the tower. We thoroughly enjoyed our food, drinks, view and experience there! They were great with my soy allergy, and they actually gave Canadian and American style table service. (Most of Australia and NZ requires you to walk up to a bar or counter to order, pay, and then nobody serves you after that.) We ate a variety of appetizers, meals and desserts, all of which were amazing, and even tried the Kangaroo, which was really tender and flavourful! I would recommend this place to anyone who enjoys fine wine and dining. Note that again, the parking situation is challenging. The nearest Wilson lot is a 10 minute walk away, and requires pre-booking for a discount.


Sydney Harbour Cruise

We chose to do a 2 hour, afternoon boat cruise, and it was fabulous. We saw so much of the harbour. Sydney would be an amazing place to do a full cruise to!


Hillsong Church

If you’re a Christian or God follower of any kind, or even potentially if you’re not, you know of Hillsong. They have churches all around the world now, but they started in Sydney, and going to their original location was a major highlight for us!


Darling Harbour

This is another harbour that is less famous than the main harbour, but is also very beautiful, and full of restaurants and bars that capitalize on the exceptional setting. They do free fireworks all spring and summer on Saturday nights at 9pm!


Local Events

We were fortunate to have friends that had just moved to Sydney, and to get to spend two days with them. They invited us along to some local events, and we met some of their friends as well. This really made us feel like we got some of the local experience, and we enjoyed experiencing Sydney with them very much!

Food and Wine Festival in Lane Cove (above)

Melbourne Cup Day (above)

The Lord Nelson Brewery, Sydney’s oldest pub (above)

Navigating our way around The Rocks at night (above)


There are so many more things to see and do in Sydney! Check out Circular Quay and The Rocks areas. The train is easy to use, and pretty affordable. There are great restaurants, pubs, chocolate shops and coffee shops everywhere. There are lots of great places to walk and jog! It’s probably not the best idea to rent a car there, unless you’re like us and are moving with too much luggage! The weather was fantastic and the people were pretty friendly. Other than having disgusting accommodations, we really enjoyed our time there!

Thanks for reading, and happy traveling!