In which the girl learns that one must hike with her eyes open

Onwards and northwards to Wanaka! Another South Island town nestled by a lake and surrounded by mountains, it’s the scrappy younger sister of Queenstown. All the fun and prettiness with lots less tourists and craziness.

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Wanaka, seen from a hilltop hike

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Studying the compass on the hilltop hike

A quick walk into town to rent bikes, we took off for a leisurely ride around the lake, then onto a bit more challenging single track ride, with wide open blue sky above us and the landscape shifting from poplar groves to scrubby grassland to subtropical forest in a matter of minutes. 15 miles on a bike is no joke when you’re not used to it, and I trudged back into town, walking my bike on the busy sidewalk. I quite literally nearly ran into David, delirious as I was with hunger and fatigue. He had had a slow morning wandering around town and chipperly began to ask us about the ride, only to be cut off by the boy, who implored, “Mr. David, can we skip the small talk? We are just too exhausted and hungry and need food.” Unable to deny this request from a struggling kid, we quickly returned the bikes and settled in for a lunch on an outdoor patio.

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Riding through the poplars, reminiscent of the Colorado Aspens

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Taking a break by the lake for some snacks

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Out of the poplars, into the flat scrubland

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girls on the ride!

A quick hop up to Fox Glacier to see some of the highest mountains in NZ and a real glacier. This was quite different than I was expecting. I was thinking that we’d go walking along and then suddenly be faced with a wall of blue ice, impenetrable and formidable, but it’s more like a big rock in the distance, having retreated quite a bit due to global warming. The most exciting part of the hike was when we were all just a bit ahead of the girl on a wooded part of the trail, then heard a yelp and looked back – she was gone. I looked around and saw just her bright pink sneakers sticking out of the brush. It didn’t seem as if there was a reason to panic, so we walked back and found her face down, having slipped off the side of the road. We pulled her out by her ankles and set her upright again, somewhat like a fallen toy soldier. “What happened?!” we asked. “Oh, well sometimes I like to see what it’s like to hike for a while with my eyes closed.”  I asked if she could possibly not do that on a glacial hike with many signs along the way showing the steep cliffs and dropoffs!

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Scrambling up the rocks, the glacier face in the distance

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Feet!

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the daring rescue

 

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Beware falling rocks!

 

After this came the one day that was a true driving slog. We wanted to spend more time in Abel Tasman park up on the north coast of South Island, so we decided to do an insanely long drive. In New Zealand this was 325 miles. Now in the States, this is a long but not unreasonable drive of 4-6 hours on the interstate system. Here, that’s about 7-8 hours on windy two lane roads. Truly, truly painful.

We stopped along the way at Hokitika, known for being an historical town for gold mining and pounamu fossicking. Pounamu, or greenstone is a Maori Taonga (treasure) and found exclusively on South island. A type of jade, it was historically used for tools and now used for jewelery. The kids and I trundled along the beach, excitedly picking up pieces of greenstone along the way, gathering a large handful of small greenish stones. We took our find back to a pounamu store on main street, waiting to hear what an amazing find we had, only to be told rather quickly that we were now in possession of a good collection of random beach rocks, but no pounamu at all. In the face of the disappointed faces, the shopkeeper gave the kids a discount on their own pounamu necklaces for themselves and friends.

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The Hokitika Clock Tower, not destroyed by a lightning strike at 10:04 PM November 12 1955

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The beach which fooled us into thinking we had found true pounamu

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Yet another animal sign but no animals!

[For the readers among you, you may recognize Hokitika as the setting for Eleanor Catton’s Booker winning epic “The Luminaries,” where the town plays a large part as a feature character. Walking around you could really see what the town would have been like during the era of gold mining, and I could see the characters walking the streets, going down to the docks, and meandering into establishments. Should you choose to read this book, I applaud you. It took me a few tries.]

A quick stop in Greymouth where the only important things are that there are penguin crossing signs, and a food truck out of which two Dutch immigrants make fresh stroopwaffels. These are delicate sweet waffles which have a layer of melty caramel in between them, and are perfect for eating with a cup of coffee or tea. Eating these fresh off an iron was delectable, and I may have purchased ten of them and eaten them mostly by myself over the next week of the trip. Or perhaps entirely by myself, but who’s counting? There are no pictures because I was too busy eating them, my friends.

-s

In which patients, not doctors, get a vacation from the hospital

Let’s talk about the idea of going on vacation from the hospital. Not for the doctors, but for the patients.

Every morning here in Whakatane we start our day with a group round. In the lounge room at the end of the hall are about twenty chairs surrounding a large table. Sometimes the table will have an unfinished puzzle sitting on it, worked on by patients and family members. At times the TV in the lounge (the only one for patients on the wards) will be turned onto the morning news show and we’ll switch it off. Just before 8 am, in file the rounding doctors for the day, the residents on duty, Nurse Managers, Social Workers, Physical and Occupational Therapists, Maori Health representatives, Respiratory Therapists, and Pharmacists. We go through the patients who are in the hospital with brief presentations so any of the support staff who need to see the patient are aware of them and their needs.

On the Friday of the first week I started working, we gathered for our usual morning rounds. About halfway through going through patients, we came to Mrs. Smith. “Mrs. Smith is going on leave this weekend,” reported her doctor that day.

“Leave?” I thought to myself. “I must have misheard.”

But, no, on he went and there was another patient who was also going on leave, which meant they were given enough pills from the hospital dispensary to take what they would need for the weekend and then were going to go home for a few days and come back on Monday for a reassessment. The physical and occupational therapist sometimes would go to the patient’s house with them to see where the deficiencies lay or at least reconvene on Monday for a discussion to see if they needed additional equipment or support.

Since then I’ve learned this is a commonplace occurrence. I had a patient who was ill with an infection and required IV antibiotics every eight hours. He was improving but still needed IV medication. On Friday, when I saw him, he asked, “Do you think I could go to church on Sunday? I usually play the organ for the choir.” I couldn’t think of a good reason why not, and off he went on Sunday between doses.

Other patients I’ve had have gone on leave as well while they wait for procedures that we can’t get easily as outpatients. A prime example is an echocardiogram, or heart ultrasound. An outpatient echocardiogram can take between one month to a year depending on how urgently it’s needed. Even at our facility we can only get them on Tuesdays and Fridays, and only four can be done on those days. If someone is generally well on say a Wednesday but really needs the test sooner than a month, we will keep them in the hospital but let them go on leave for times so they’re not stuck in their rooms.

I had another patient who was quite ill, also with an infection and was less stable, with worrisome kidney function and so weak he was unable to walk. However, his grandfather with whom he was very close had recently died, and the three-day funeral was starting the next day. Could he go on leave for the funeral activities?

This is utterly unheard of in the US, at least where I used to work. (If you’re a US based doc and this is a normal thing for you, please let me know, I’m curious.) The reasons are vast, starting with litigation. God forbid if something bad happened to someone while you’d let them leave the hospital, you would guarantee a lawsuit even if you’d gone over potential risks beforehand. People here also seem to have more family around who are able to help and stay with their loved ones – there almost always seems to be at least a few (and usually quite a lot) family members who live locally and help out regularly. We also have midlevel facilities in the States, which we don’t have here, called Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF for short), for patients who don’t necessarily need hospital-level care but aren’t quite well enough to go home. Length of stay in the US is also typically pretty low because of that and because of financial pressures, so you’re in the hospital only as long as you can’t get the same level of care somewhere else, and then off you go. There is a stark dividing line between home and hospital – either you’re sick enough to stay in the hospital or you’re well enough to go home, and if you’re in between, then off to a SNF you go.

I get that mentality, and it took me a while to get used to the idea of leave, but I’ve grown to see it as an excellent idea. Sometimes, elderly people who seem highly dysfunctional in an unfamiliar hospital environment will do far better in their own space, where they’ve likely adapted their surroundings to work for them. A trial of a few days with family supervision seems far preferable than making a permanent decision of nursing home placement directly from the hospital setting.

It can be mentally healing as well. I had one patient who had not been doing well from a mental health standpoint. He’d been quite depressed in the hospital and just not getting much better. It looked like he was heading for permanent nursing home placement as he couldn’t get any stronger. His family said that if he could just go home for a few hours, sit on his couch, pet his dog, he’d be much improved. Despite my American doctor sensibilities, I acceded to their request. You know what? They were right. He came back with new enthusiasm and was able to be discharged home the next week.

For my patient who wanted to attend the funeral despite his own serious illness, it was clear that to miss the funeral would be something he would regret forever. Despite the risk, his family was able to arrange wheelchairs and transportation and he was able to attend at least for a few hours daily. Could something bad have happened? Sure, but we talked about the risks, he and the family accepted. Again, they made sure to time their visit around his medications so no doses were missed or late. It’s not a medically litigious society and people overall are far more comfortable with understanding that they’re taking a risk and living with it. I see some decisions like this as working with people to address other needs than just the physical, which overall impacts health.

I know this isn’t something I’ll be able to do at home, it’s just not accepted practice. But I have to wonder for people who are in the hospital for long periods of time whether a little break, a little return to normalcy and the outside world doesn’t provide a lot more benefits than I can give through an IV line.

-s

In which we fly South for the Spring, and play the WORST board game

[We’re back in the States, and posts about the transition back will be up soon, but I have this need to keep things in chronological, if tardy, order, so in this posting we are traveling back in time to April!]

Fall break is upon us here in the Southern Hemisphere, and with two weeks off for the kids, two weeks of paid vacation for me, and two weeks of what is regular life for Eric, we headed South. It was cold and damp the night before we left, and we both had a bit of travel regret, wondering why we didn’t use at least one of these weeks to head over to Fiji instead and crisp on the beach.

No, we reassured ourselves, we’ll really enjoy the South Island. Beautiful it’s said to be. Very outdoorsy. Just like us. Super outdoorsy. And as it turned out, it was both as beautiful and outdoorsy as promised, though I’d be lying if there weren’t a few times I wistfully longed for a Fijian beach with a cocktail in my hand.

Other than our foursome, David Cooper travelled along with us. He’s a longtime friend of Eric’s from Michigan days. The five of us flew into Queenstown on a Saturday evening and checked into our Air BnB before heading out to find some food. On our quest for food, we went by a little counter store that promised tasty tacos. Tacos? We hadn’t had a decent taco since leaving the States and we were intrigued. We were looking for a sit down restaurant that night and promised to come back the next.

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David Cooper doing what he does best, take amazing photos!

Queenstown is a compact city on the banks of Lake Wakatipu and nestled among rugged mountains. We couldn’t appreciate much of it in the evening, but the following morning showed us spectacular views. It’s known for being an adventure sport capital, but I couldn’t get anyone to go bungy jumping with me on the highest platform in the world (thankfully, because that looked terrifying) and we instead decided to hike up the creatively named Bob’s Peak. The faster and quadriceps-sparing way up the mountain is to take the gondola up but (see above) we are outdoorsy! So up we hiked, and found a windy trail through the pine trees peppered with thrones carved out of tree stumps. Taking our time and enjoying the regal view from all of them, we got to the top and found the stunning view of the city and the lake.

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We couldn’t leave without getting SOME adrenalin flowing though, so off to the luge we went. In the States, when you have a mountain cart it’s on a safer single track that veers down and you can only speed up or slow down. Here in NZ you’re in a glorified go-kart and are on your own to careen down the wide track as fast or slow as you’d like, and it’s an absolute blast.

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Afterwards we returned to Taco Medic, where we indeed found the most delicious tacos and nachos, with ingredients either locally sourced or imported from Mexico. It is an absolute crime that I did not take a single picture of us with the food, but we were too happy shoving it in our mouths to do so.

Onwards south to Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound. The first day we spent hiking through Rivendell, also known as the Kepler Track

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We’d been meaning to try geocaching for a long time, and finally remembered on this hike! For those of you who don’t know (the geocaching community calls you, ahem, muggles) Geocaching is a fun little outdoors game where using a GPS device or your phone you find little containers hidden in the outdoors. They’ll have a logbook and usually a small trinket, which you can take and replace with one of your own. There’s no purpose to it other than the fun of finding hidden puzzles and being outdoors. (That’s us! Outdoorsy!)

 

We were supposed to go to Milford Sound the next day, but the weather had other plans. A sudden fall snowstorm closed the only access to the Sound, so we had an indoor day and played board games. One of these is the WORST BOARD GAME KNOWN TO MAN. It involved polyominoes, or sets of five squares in various formations and colors. You had to collect a complete set of 20 – this part was fine, typical board game play of landing on squares and completing small challenges. But then, THEN, you had to arrange the complete set of 20 to make a certain picture. I consider myself a relatively bright person with a predilection for puzzles, and so I foolishly chose a picture of medium difficulty. This was insanely impossible. It was supposed to look like a set of mountains, but the most I could manage was a deformed dog. After nearly 30 minutes of struggling with the pieces this way and that, the boy finally declared victory with his card and the rest of us wept in gratitude, our heads aching from the effort. The snootiness that he STILL has over being the only person to win this game is obnoxious.

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NOT the obnoxious game. I couldn’t bring myself to snap a picture.

We made it to Milford Sound the next day instead, and were rewarded with a perfect day. Fun fact: Milford Sound isn’t really a Sound at all, but a Fjord. “What’s the difference?” you may ask? So glad you asked! Fjords are inlets of water into land that are formed by glacier movements to sea carving the land away. A Sound is an inlet of water into land that is created by either sea level rise or land fall and has little to do with glaciers. Regardless of name, Milford is rightfully described by many as one of the most beautiful sights in the world. A small pod of dolphins thought so too and frolicked along side us for a while, enjoying the stunning view which is best left to photos for description.

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First views of the Sound on the way out

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Touching the waterfall for luck!

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Milford sound, you can just see the path of the ancient glaciers

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enjoying a snowfight over the pass! First snow in 2 years!

-s

In which there are goats

On the last day I tried to surf several months ago, Mother Nature let it be known that I had no business in the ocean and tossed me about rather viciously. Since then I’ve had some pain in my lower back, not a huge deal but enough that I figured I should go see a physical therapist to sort out.

In one of our recent sessions, I was chatting with her about how, while I missed my husband and daughter, it did make packing up for home a lot easier in that I only had to do things one way, which was my way (the correct way, really.)

She replied, laughing “I know what you mean! My husband is gone to Australia for a week and in some ways it’s been easier. Except for having to move the goat shed over, which is usually his job. One of the baby goats we’d found had died and I guess it was too cold where it was. We had to hook up the shed to the truck….” She continued with the technical specifications of moving the goat shed, but I’d really stopped listening by then as all I could think of was the same repeating questions in my head which I then blurted out, “Wait, what do you mean ‘one of the baby goats we FOUND?’ Are there a lot of wild goats roaming around New Zealand?”

She paused for a moment and then said, “Well, yeah, I guess I can see how that could sound odd,” in a way that suggested that I was a complete moron for not understanding where one acquires baby goats in New Zealand as it’s common knowledge in these parts. As it turns out, she lives out in the countryside and her neighbor has a cattle farm. He also has goats which help to keep the weeds down, though these are largely feral at this point and he doesn’t bother with them much. Apparently, if a goatess has babies but the herd chooses to move along, she abandons the kids if they can’t keep up, sort of like what I do  with my children on long hikes. It is these goats that Karen (for that is my PTs name) and her family find on neighboring property and take in. Last year, they started with three goats as well, and named them Katniss, Peeta and Gale. I would argue that these names did not bode well for the survival of the goats.

They weren’t really sure what to feed the goats at first, so started with diluted cow’s milk. This proved not to be the best food as Peeta began bleating in distress shortly thereafter. His cold body was found in the morning. Karen and her family dug a hole.

A visit to the goat shop led them to the correct formula to feed the goats, and Katniss and Gale thrived, delighting Karen’s kids. They were rather mischevious, however. The goats would often run into the street and cause cars to swerve out of the way. Given that this is a somewhat rural dirt road, this didn’t happen all that often but was a bit problematic.

Once, a goat, let’s say it was Gale, jumped in front of a car which skidded left and then stopped. The driver walked out to check on the goat. Gale appeared to be unharmed and then quickly skipped around the driver, went through his open car door, said hello to the wife and then leapt into the backseat of the car where he made himself at home. Karen had by this point come out of the house and began to apologize profusely to the driver who seemed rather amused by it all. “Rather a cute thing,” he said to Karen, looking back at the caprine intruder. “He seems to like us,” he continued, “do you mind if we keep him?” And thus did Gale find a new home, because only in New Zealand do you adopt a domesticated goat that nearly wrecked your car.

Katniss also got into trouble a few times for jumping into vehicles, namely the school bus. The goat clearly missed the memo that it was a lamb that was to follow its owner to school. The school bus driver, like most school bus drivers, was short of humor after years of driving screaming kids to and fro and was rather displeased by the sudden appearance of a goat in his ridership. It was time for Katniss to head on, so Karen did as one does and listed the goat on TradeMe for $30, which is the NZ equivalent of eBay. A call came soon after and a shabby man dressed in a priest’s frock trundled up the road in a puttering truck. He got out of the car and in now in plain sight, appeared clearly underfed. Karen recognized his poverty and couldn’t bring herself to charge the man for the goat, but her kids insisted on asking the man if the goat would be eaten. “Uh, no, I’m not going to eat it…she’ll just be my pet,” he said, while avoiding direct eye contact. Good enough, and off Katniss went with the impoverished priest, I’m sure to NOT be roasted over an open fire and eaten.

Onto this year, where once again, Karen and family found themselves in possession of three goats that were abandoned near their property line. These they took in and named Harry, Hermione and Finnick. Why not complete the trio, I wondered, but never asked. Harry and Hermione came to frozen ends, necessitating the moving of the shed which I mentioned earlier, and the purchasing of goat blankets which, yes, are a thing. Finnick is now doing quite well and rather cute, or so I’m led to believe. “What’s to become of Finnick?” I asked. “Will he also go to live unharmed with the priest from last year?”

“Nah, we’ve become rather attached to him. I think we’ll just keep him.”

Looks like the odds were in his favor after all.

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Stock photo of baby goat for reference

 

-s

In Which we trek through Mordor to Mt. Doom

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Panoramic view of Ruapehu on the left, Ngaurahoe on the right

After months of anticipation and training, it was time for our Northern Circuit hiking trip! The Northern Circuit is a three-day hiking and hut trip through Tongariro National Park, which is in the center of the North Island. Its big star is Mt. Ngaurahoe, better known as Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies. You can’t climb Nguarahoe itself, but skirt all around its base and get some amazing views.

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Starting out on the hike, full of energy

As we are not particularly skilled outdoorsy types, nor did we bring any of our camping gear with us (which, let’s be honest, we don’t own any backcountry stuff) we chose to go with a guided tour group, Walking Legends. They deal with the food and arranging accomodations and we had to carry our own clothes, water, and sleeping bags for the trip. 10 miles on day one, 5 miles day two, and another 10 on day 3, staying in rustic huts along the way.

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Heading into the valley

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Intrepid hiker unafraid of the looming clouds. Why he’s rocking a half style LL Cool J one pants leg rolled, I don’t know.

 

I obsessively checked the weather before the trip, and nervously saw that it was slated to rain the entire time. As much as I was looking forward to the hike, I didn’t really want to have three soggy, cold, squelchy days in the backcountry.

 

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Looking back over the valley from Devils Staircase, all you see are old lava flow

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Up Devils Staircase over rocky lava scree

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Touching a cloud. Pants mode: Full LL Cool J now.

The day before the hike, the weather cleared at least for the first two days. It started off foggy but soon cleared to a stunning blue sky and long distance views. Nguarahoe remained shrouded in mist that day, however, and wasn’t revealed to us until the second day of our trip. 

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Rock scramble!

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Super windy here! Check out the boy’s pack strap fluttering in the wind. Pants: back down. It’s cold here!

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Almost at the top! By far the most challenging part of the hike. The kids had to kneel at times when big gusts of wind threatend to blow them off the ridge

 

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View from the top, as the fog lifts over the Emerald and Blue lakes below

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We made it!

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Distance view from the top with Blue lake just peeking out in the distance.

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Pondering by the sacred Blue Lake. To touch the waters is Tapu, as is to eat or drink by it.

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Red Crater, from a volcanic eruption and still an active volcano

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Wine and cheese happy hour was much enjoyed after the 16km hike

There are resident rangers at the huts along the way, who give a nightly chat about the surrounding area and safety information. They’re required to give information about what to do in case of a volcanic eruption, and in both instances the “safety talk” was basically a shrug and a recommendation to a) pull out your camera to record the event and then b) make sure you strike an intriguing pose so that when they dig your body out of the ash a la Pompeii, you will confuse the future archaeologists.  Not exactly reassuring, but we escaped unscathed and eruption-free from the valley.

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Mt. Ngaurahoe unveiled in the light of sunrise

 

The stars of Tongariro Park are the active volcanoes along the way, especially Mt. Ngaurahoe, best known as Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies. Fun fact about Mt. Doom – Peter Jackson approached the local Maori tribe about using the mountain in the movie, and they initially declined as the mountain is considered sacred, but eventually agreed as long as the top of the mountain was not shown on screen as that is the holiest part. Therefore all of the top of Mt. Doom that you see in the movies is CGI! None of the scenes with people were filmed on Nguarahoe either, only external shots, the people scenes were filmed on nearby Ruapehu, in what becomes the beginner ski area in winter.

The volcanic valley between the mountains is Mordor, and it’s easy to see why – a dark rocky lava strewn landscape, with occasional bursts of steam emanating from geothermal vents makes for an eerie trek.

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Mordor awaits

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The trek through Mordor. Fortunately, no orcs were spotted.

 

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Ngaurahoe in the distance

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Taking a break by a little stream on our way to the second hut

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Out of Mordor, into the forest

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Light filtering through the trees into the mossy greens

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A chilly yet refreshing bath in a local stream

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The dam had been knocked over by recent flooding so the kids spent some time building it back up again to create a bathing pool

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The second hut was so beautiful!

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Hand carved boat from pumice and woven sail from reeds around the campsite

 

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I taught the kids how to play blackjack, and we used scrabble tiles to bet. Great parenting.

 

The last day of the hike, we awoke to a drizzly and windy morning. Our guide advised that 10 miles of hiking in winds and with wet river crossings and with children would prove to be a miserable day, and so we bailed out and took the three mile exit track to where a van picked us up. I’m disappointed we weren’t able to finish the last leg of the hike, but in hindsight it was the right move, as having six miserable hours of hiking in wet boots would have meant cranky and unhappy kids and where’s the fun in that?

 

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A wet, drizzly last 5k hike to get off the track

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Erosion at work from rains

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Happy, wet, tired hikers. They rocked it.

 

Such a great trip overall, Walking Legends was incredible for making everything easy except the walking itself. Moreover, it was so peaceful to be unplugged and removed from the rest of the world, and something I think we should all have the ability to do more.

-s

In which we get to star in our own jungle adventure movie. And eat ice cream.

If you were to ever come to New Zealand around the summer months, you’ll see signs everywhere for “Real Fruit Ice Cream”. I beseech you not to drive by, but to pull over the MINUTE you see this sign. 

There is your usual scoop ice cream here, tasty in the oversweetened way that all bucket scoop ice cream is, but the real fruit ice cream is a treat, especially if you can find it at a local berry farm that grows its own fruit on premises and then makes it into a delicious cone. 

You get a choice of strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry or mixed. Take your pick, they’re all tasty. A screwpull machine sits on the counter, and into this two scoops of vanilla ice cream are lobbed in, followed by a few scoops of your berry of choice. The handle is lowered and the motor is turned on, crushing the berries and the ice cream together into a swirl of fresh, tart, tastiness, and not one bit too sweet.

 

We’re eating up as much as we can while it’s still here, as it doesn’t stick around for —winter.

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A close up of perfection


 

In other news, we went to Raglan a few weekends ago for a visit to the West coast of NZ. Another family who we’ve become friends with wanted to check out a reggae music festival there that touts itself as being family-friendly. Eric and I took a look at the music schedule, thought about muddy mosh pits, port-a-potties, and reggae music and decided to pass on the festival. 

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Pukeko Crossing!

Upon arrival to Raglan, Eric wanted to go the beach to look at the waves, and the kids only wanted to go to what they remembered as a magical playground from our short stop there last year. It was still fun, though sadly smaller than they remembered. 

Eric’s dream was to surf the West Coast and catch a ride on a different sort of wave than the gentle surf we have in Ohope. We walked past the festival grounds, and saw swarms of twentysomething women all dressed in identical clothing – cutoff jean shorts, crop tops, Adidas sneakers, holding clear plastic cups with beer as they ambled past. The rare one had flip-flops on as the only sartorial variation I saw among festival goers. The twentysomething boys were dressed pretty generically similar as well – shorts, tees, same sneakers, same cup of beer. As we got to the beach, some of them were running around wildly and stripping off before diving into the water, knocking other people out of the way. We looked at our kids and told them they’d BETTER never act like that, though chances are they probably will.

I usually feel pretty young-at-heart, as if I could still be a twentysomething inside, but then there are moments when I’m around ACTUAL twentysomethings and I think to myself, nope, I’m every bit of forty and perfectly happy to be so. Our friends had a very short visit to the festival, drew the same conclusions, and spent the rest of the time at the beach.

The Air BnB we stayed at had kayaks available for our use, and we hauled them down to the bay to ride around. One of them had a missing back gasket, but we happened to have a roll of duck tape and MacGyvered it so we could still take out the kayak. It was the girl’s first time in a single kayak and she did great! We kayaked across the bay to the limestone rock formations. We had unknowingly set out at high tide, an excellent accident as we could paddle our way around and through the pancake rocks, feeling very much like intrepid explorers.

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Rounding the corner around pancake rocks

We’ve signed up for a three day hut hiking trip over the Tongariro Northern Circuit. One of the highlights is Mt. Ngaurahoe (Nau-ra-ho-ee), otherwise known as Mt. Doom to Lord of the Rings fans! Our friend Chris has been trying in vain to convince our kids that orcs lie in wait for them on the trail and Nazgul might snatch them from overhead, but to no avail – they are too streetwise to fall for such tricks.

 Each day has us hiking between 5-10 miles and sleeping in huts along the way. We are in no way capable of doing this on our own and have signed up with a company that feeds us, guides us, and carries the heavy stuff so we don’t have to.

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Eek! Steep steps on a training hike!

We have been doing a lot of training hikes to get ourselves and the kids ready. We did a nice long one in Raglan that was about 3.5 hours and one of the most challenging hikes we’ve done. Most of it starts off going straight uphill, until you come to a rocky narrow ledge that has steep dropoffs on either side. bout halfway up, Eric got worried the kids wouldn’t make it down. I threw a small fit about wanting to complete the hike, given that no matter if we went further it’s not like the going down would be easier at that point. We were all happy that we didn’t for shortly after was a scramble up a muddy, rootbound hill which has chains helpfully bolted in for you to hold onto as you climb up or down, and now we all got to feel a bit like Lara Croft as she scampered through jungle scenes.

Eric tried his legs at surfing on the West Coast, and alas the waves were just a bit too rough and knocked him around a bit. I went out boogie boarding with the kids and this was fantastic, as the shore break is long and you get a fun ride in! Once, though, I got out just a few feet farther than I should have and the ocean let me know it by smashing me down – the West Coast ocean does not mess around.

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The view on the way up


On the way back to Ohope, we stopped in at the Hamilton Botanic Gardens which are free to the public. They have these wonderful walled in garden spaces that are set up like gardens from times past and future. Some of them, like the “American pop modern” garden isn’t what I would consider a typical botanical garden, but a backyard outdoor space, with a large pop art painting of Marilyn Monroe, a small paddling pool and a turquoise blob of concrete meant to be art – and that was the point, to make you reconsider what it meant to have something be a garden. Some of the more traditional ones are below, and we had a lovely few hours wandering around before heading home to our little beachside house.

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English Medieval Garden

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Maori Kumara (yam) field – Red building is a gorgeous carved storehouse to dry yams

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Italian Renaissance Garden

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Chinese Contemplative Garden, a rare moment of peace.

-s

In which I battle the Lord of the Flies, and lose.

It’s summertime in New Zealand, and apparently this means that it is the beginning of war. War of the flies, that is. For some unknown reason, New Zealand does not believe in having screens on windows, which means that you must choose between getting baked alive in your house or dealing with swarms of flies in it.

We  have tried swatting at them individually, both with towels and with rolled up newspapers. This has the effect of being immediately gratifying as well as giving the kids something to do over summer break. Eventually, though, the flies land on me and the kids would attack me with the towels and newspapers, making this method significantly less attractive.

Then came the boy who insisted that burning kawakawa leaves is an effective deterrent for the flies. Kawakawa is a plant that grows in New Zealand and has been used as a traditional medicinal by the Maori people for years. It can be used as a balm, a tonic and a tea for pain relief. We burned a few of the leaves on a plate, and the toxic smoke seemed to clear out the flies for a bit, but the leaves burned quickly and the relief short-lasting.

Then came a series of experiments where we tried to create homemade oil lamps from a kawakawa infusion to keep the flies at bay. Putting a wick of cotton in a shallow bowl to mimic the Indian oil lamps I grew up with seemed to be the most effective, but the boy underwent elaborate experiments with glass jars, drilling through the lids, creating a wick with cotton twine pretreated with wax, then lighting them on fire. None of them worked. The flies continued to descend.

I looked up more non-toxic ways to get rid of flies. I tried making a flytrap out of a glass of wine and a paper funnel. Other than wasting half a glass of perfectly decent pinot, this was a failure. We hung up flypaper and waited for them to fill up with flies, but they’re too smart for flypaper in this country, and the gross sticky strips remained largely untouched except for some unlucky moths. I made a homemade flyspray with dishsoap and water in a spray bottle, and we chased the flies around. Some we did get with this, but the larger effect was to enrage Eric when the kids sprayed the flies sitting on windows, as he had just finished cleaning them and they were now coated in a soapy film.

We tried keeping all the doors and windows open to let the flies roam in and out freely. They roam in but do not roam out.

Sitting on the couch one day I looked over to the arm where I heard a frantic buzzing and saw two flies mating not a foot away from me. For shame flies, for shame. I should have realized the futility at that point, but alas, my foolhardiness continued.

At the grocery store last week I came upon the household goods aisle and saw person after person walking away with a canister of aerosol fly spray. Enough of this non-toxic nonsense, I decided, and grabbed a can.

At home, I attacked the flies with the spray. “90% natural” advertises the can. “Citronella scent” it touts. Our house was soon filled with a cloud of unbreathably thick vaguely citrus scent. We ate dinner outside that night, in the cooling evening air. When we returned, the flies lined up and stared at us, with one especially large one in front. He raised a front leg and curled it in a “come and get me” maneuver. 

We admitted defeat. I for one welcome our new fly overlords. And the first cold snap of winter that will hopefully kill them all.

-s