In which we go mountain biking in a California redwood forest…in New Zealand

One of the big things Eric and I were really looking forward to was mountain biking in Rotorua. California redwoods were imported there in 1901 to support the logging industry and while they didn’t really take off as a new source of timber, some part of the forest remains. The upshot is that in the middle of New Zealand is a gorgeous California Redwood forest just begging to be ridden through. 
We asked to stay at the farmstay an additional day since we figured we wouldn’t want to bike and get muddy and then have to pack up and go somewhere, and man, were we grateful for that decision later! It made me even happier that we had been able to add some flexibility into our schedule and not have everything booked solid before we left. 
We called the lovely people at Planet Bike in the morning and made sure they had rental bikes for us. They were so nice, even to switch the brakes so we wouldn’t have to brake backwards with the back wheel brakes on the left! I was so glad of this at many times in the ride. The kids were fitted on fat tire bikes, a first for them! And we were off on the muddy trails. Both kids tried to hit all the mud puddles as fast as they could so that by the end of the day they resembled little else than mini mud monsters. We had them strip before they got back in the car.


Riding through the forest was so, so beautiful. The entire time I was riding I just couldn’t believe how happy I felt. We ran into maybe another 3 people along the way and the feeling of cruising through a dappled forest with birds and animals chirping about you is unparalleled. The girl got a bit nervous at times with the isolated feeling, and I told her assuredly that it was impossible to get lost in this forest. 


About 5 minutes later we got lost in the forest. We had taken a bit of a wrong turn and found ourselves off trail. We used my phone to figure out the compass directions and headed that way, only to find ourselves in denser forest and the clear disappearance of the trail. Under his breath, Eric asked “you sure this is right?” And I replied quietly so the kids wouldn’t hear, “ummm, not really.” Out loud we acted like grown ups and kept saying that we were going the right way. 
After we came back out to where we had made the wrong turn, we simply turned around and saw the right road about, oh, 5 yards from where we had been. Eesh. We were able to make it back to the trail and then, the fun part after all the hard uphill riding we had done! Going downhill on a muddy trail with bumps over tree roots was exhilarating! 
We had initially intended to go to the Waikiti hot spring before going home, but instead decided to head back to the farmstay to make lunch and de-mud first. After this we didn’t feel like the long drive to Waikiti and instead went to the Polynesian Spa hot spring in town and loved it. There was a pool for the kids to frolic in and they made some friends with two local Kiwi kids who gave their opinion on US politics (Summary: Trump is bad, Clinton is okay but not as good as Obama). Given that I couldn’t tell you anything about who runs New Zealand, I’m amazed at the overall cultural dominance of the States in this regard. 
Back home for a peaceful night in, having made some pesto pasta at home for a simpler night of food comfort. 

-s

In which we commune with the Hobbits.

The rainy day in Rotorua continued for much of the morning. This was a blessing in that we needed some downtime to just relax and not do anything for a bit. It was going to clear in the afternoon, so the kids and I thought this would be a great time to visit the hobbits! Eric’s interest in people is directly proportional to their relation to him or how much shorter they are then him, and given that hobbits are on the low end of both, hold little fascination for him. He chose to stay in town and go for a swim at the aquatic center.

After a bit of a drive we found our way on the Hobbiton set. One of the things that’s amazed me about NZ is how little things are commercialized to the way they are in the States. I mean, if this set was in the US, there’d be some sort of big theme park around it and multiple ways for them to sell you things. Here, there’s a small car park, little cabin like building, smallish gift shop and … That’s it. You board a bus to take you to the set and the gate to enter isn’t even mechanized. The tour guide has to hop out of the bus, open it, wait for the bus to pass, then close it and hop in! A stupid bit of detail but it’s things like that which fascinate me sometimes.

Onto the hobbits! 

The set is really lovely, I have to say, and you feel like you’ve been dropped into the Shire from all angles. Given that it had just rained, everything was green and misty. They take care to keep everything as it was and real – the gardens are actually growing vegetables. I could see Frodo and Sam walking through the space, and Gandalf riding in, and the big party under the magnificent tree. 


The set is just the exterior fronts – you can’t actually see into Bag End as that was all filmed on a set. The only Americanized thing I would have liked for them to do would be to pipe in some of the soundtrack music as you walk around. As it was, some of the other people on the tour whistled and hummed it the entire way for us. 
After that it was home and some tasty Indian takeaway. TV here is a bit limited where we’ve been staying so the kids are getting a new education in prime time offerings. They’re loving the Australian version of The Voice, and are hoping to catch the next episode to follow along!

In which we make our own hot pool and chill with the sheep

It’s about 8:30 in the morning and the weather outside is foggy with a constant downpour of rain. We’re in a farm cottage where we’re staying for two nights, having rolled in yesterday. Most of my morning with the boy was spent in trying to figure out how to operate the wood burning fireplace so that it heats up these chilly rooms, and I think we’ve just gotten it figured out. The chill and wet don’t seem to bother the animals much, and we awoke to a concertina of birds, roosters and sheep.
I suppose it will surprise no one, including myself, that there will be times of friction among the four of us in such close quarters for so long. I know it’s only been a few days but the mentality is different than a week away where you know you’re going home soon. Yesterday morning was one of the first, where the boy was mad at me about having to write his blog post, the girl was mad at me for god knows what, I was annoyed at both of them and Eric had taken off for a peaceful sunrise stroll in all of this which annoyed me too. After a bit of a tearful breakdown, we managed to pull ourselves together and all cheer up again. 
Our day yesterday then turned into a lovely one, starting with hot water beach in the morning. This is a unique place on the Coromandel peninsula’s East Coast, where a hot spring that feeds to the beach runs under the sand to the ocean. If you bring a shovel at low tide and dig a little pool, it fills with hot water and you’ve got yourself a little hot tub (sans jets)! The boy had great fun trying to figure out the hottest spot to dig and how to make sure we had a nice warm pool to relax in. The weather was cooperating thankfully, and we had several hours of sunshine and low 60s weather to enjoy the hot water in. Low tide was at 9ish and we spent the next hour and a half relaxing in the warmth while the girl ran up and down the coast in a state of bliss at being on the beach. 


After this we drove down the east coast on our way to Rotorua,stopping for a nice lunch at the Sands cafe in Whangamata before heading a bit further inland to the Karaheke Gorge. Here, there was a mining facility and mining railway that are now ruins, with signs marking the way. We went for a little walk through one of the old mining trails, which was damp and verdant. I am wowed by how quickly nature reasserts itself when manmade places are left to ruin. 

We walked through one of the old mining tunnels which at one point became pitch black – I began to feel a sense of closed in panic, and the girl began to whimper as well. We had our iPhone flashlight to help, though it didn’t entirely light up the tunnel. At one point we couldn’t see an end to the darkness and all began to get scared, until a large group of Chinese tourists came through the other way and, well, I felt a bit silly for being scared. 
After this we made our way to Rotorua from where I write this post, staying at a farmstay a little way out of town, and trying to decide what to do with ourselves on this rainy day. 

-s