Thursday, August 23, 2012

Home at Last!

Um, I think it’s officially still Tuesday, 8:03 pm in Los Angeles

Monday evening we went to dinner at a simply heavenly Italian restaurant called Covo, on Fort Street. The food was stupendous. Unfortunately, the very friendly host screwed up and put our order in wrong, so it took forever and the kids were very cranky. But, oh, the food was yummy. The Napolitano sauce tasted exactly like my Grandpa Ralph used to make.

Tuesday David had a 5:30 am conference call, and then he was off to work again. The kids and I slept late and took our time getting out in the morning. We had to clear out of the kids’ room, so we moved all the luggage into David’s room and I finished packing up.

Then we left for the Art Museum. Lovely, really. Sam especially loved it. He got to walk around by himself, and one of the very enthusiastic young docents (I think they were all art students at the university) helped him out. Sofia and Micah had fun in an optical illusion room, full of mirrors and stripes.

We snacked at the museum before we started looking around, and that was about the largest meal of the day. After the museum, the weather had cleared nicely, so we took a long meandering walk, through the Auckland University campus and then down along the waterfront. We crossed over the foot-bridge again, and took a little trolley tour around the waterfront area, then walked back up Queen Street. Took most of the day.

When we got home, we had just a few minutes to prepare a little surprise for David (some treats to be delivered to his room every few days), and then he was home. We had a while to wait for the shuttle to the airport, and when we finally got there, found nearly nothing to eat for dinner. But David did come with us, which was nice.

The flight was fine. Sofia fell asleep before takeoff, but she woke a few hours earlier than I would have wanted. I watched 8 or 9 of the first Glee episodes (they had seasons 1, 2 and 3). I have not seen all of them. LOVE IT!!! And the episode where they introduced Becky, the girl with DS, has completely touched me and stuck with me all day.

We were of course the last ones off the plane, but that was fine because our luggage was last out too. Got some carry on stuff transferred into the checked luggage before going through customs, so that lightened the load a bit.

Then we took a cab ride. Very nice Armenian gentleman was our driver and host. He took us on a tour through Hollywood Boulevard and then to the Santa Monica Pier. Cost a fortune and took over an hour, but he was very pleasant.

Pier was perhaps a bit too crowded and loud for Sam. We walked a little, got lunch (more fried fish - I’m SO done with fried fish), and walked back to the main road. Stopped for a ride on the Carousel. Then a cab back to the airport.

And here we wait, several hours early for our 10:27pm flight. Almost home! I can’t believe this trip is over.

Thursday night some time... in Ashland!

We made it home. I nearly murdered Micah when we got onto the plane, since he would not take direction. We were the first ones on the plane (yes, I play the special needs card!), but he took forever to get settled.

Flight was ok. Harried going through Logan. Enough travel. Took a while to connect with our driver. But eventually we got home.

Slept off and on most of the day. Just exhausted. I let Sam and Sofia skip the MWJDS picnic and stay asleep, which was a bad idea. We were awake until after 5am! I would have slept, but Sofia does not like me to sleep when she is awake, and insisted on waking me any time I dozed off.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday August 20

Yup, Sky Tower. Pretty cool. Then a quick stop at the grocery store for “nappies” (pull ups) for Sofia, and then take-out for lunch. Micah actually had a Subway tuna sandwich, while Sam and I had sushi and Sofia had rice & tofu. Ate back in the room while watching tv.

Then back out. First stop, a park nearby, where there was a nice playground, and then also a replica of Michaelangelo’s “Moses” statue. Then back to the shopping area. I had planned to follow a walking tour, but I was accompanied by tired, self-centered, intolerant, spoiled brats who only wanted what they wanted: Micah was searching for “A New York Brownie” which he had seen on a menu at a restaurant; Sofia wanted Ice Cream; and Sam was searching for a sweat shirt and a black jade necklace.

We found a brownie, which he did not totally like (I thought it was yummy). Sam found his sweatshirt, for a good price (saw it several other places for more). But the black jade is very expensive, and ultimately I said it was not an option. So Sam was disappointed.

We stopped in a lot of shops. Micah also got a “Magic” card (the game Magic, which he plays with his cousin Alex). He had wanted one particular card which cost $5, but we ended up getting 4 cards for the same price that the guy said would be better. But MIcah was disappointed.

Two disappointed children makes for a lot of whining, and eventually Mama snapped. Then we spent a while shopping for ME (I bought a sweater, pale pink). Then got Sofia her ice cream. She was fairly happy otherwise (she drank my ice tea), sitting in her chair, no shoes (they’re in the bag), cross-legged, playing with her baby doll.

I had “chocolate and blue cheese” ice cream. Odd but tasty. Now we are back in the hotel, 4:45 pm, resting and waiting for David to come home from work.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday August 19

It’s gone. The campervan is finally gone. Back to its home. Handed in. Turned over. Done.

Before that, we slept LATE. Amazing what clean sheets, regulated temperature, and some black-out curtains can achieve! When Micah and I left the rooms at 8:45 to go eat something, rest were still asleep.

Light breakfast in the Club Room with Micah, and David took the other two a bit later. Then we looking for laundry. Drove to the town near the airport, Mangere, and found one of the many laundromats in the area (of course none in the Central Business District of Auckalnd!).

Found the laundromat, but Sam had a massive anxiety attack and refused to get out of the van! So I went in and did the laundry while David took the kids across to the grocery store.

Great laundromat. Huge industrial machines, holding 25kg of laundry! That’s a lot. And very efficient. I got everything done.

Only casualty was Sofia’s sneakers. The other day she had gotten them very wet (possibly she peed in them too) and even after their own run through the washing machine, I could not get the stink out of them. So we left them at the laundromat. I hope someone else can use them.

The campervan folks arranged our ride “home” to the hotel. When we returned, we got into our new rooms, on the 12th floor. Exactly the same as the old (from 626 and 627 to 1226 and 1227).

Then we walked back fown to have lunch. Ended up in the same area as yesterday, for Italian food this time. Folks at the table next to us were speaking Hebrew! I had a brief conversation in Hebrew; the guy has lived here for more than 20 years.

Walked back through the rain to the hotel and took the kids swimming in the very chilly hotel pool. The boys all went into the men’s room sauna, but Sofia did not like the ladies’ room sauna so I took her back up to the room and gave her a bath.

Then off for dinner. David had looked up a good sushi place nearby, but it took a while to find it (we turned the wrong way first). Yummy sushi, but the kids were too tired. They did make Micah a roll without sesame, but he also wanted the age tofu, which did have sesame, so he was sad. And Sam’s tummy hurt, so he couldn’t finish his roll. But Sofia loved her rice and miso and edamame and Japanese pickles. I really enjoyed the “Bridge” roll, which was basically salmon and avocado but coated with red and black roe.

David took the kids back to the hotel, but I went in the other direction in search of a pharmacy (something David needed) and a dessert shop (for Micah). Success for both.

Now we’re all in bed, watching the last Harry Potter movie on Sky TV (in both rooms!). David starts work in the morning. He’s kind of nervous. And it looks as if he’ll be staying an extra week for another company, so that will be three weeks he’s here alone. Yuch.

Not sure what I’ll do with the kids tomorrow besides shop, except maybe go to the Sky Tower.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Clean At Last!!!

Friday August 17, nearly 7pm

Ok, that was easily the best meal we had the entire month! Grilled polenta with warm goat cheese and balsamic vinagrette and various vegetables; creamed pumpkin soup; warm bread with oil and balsamic and nuts; spiced “chips”. Wine, coffee. Really yummy. (And free WiFi). The name of the restaurant was Huhu.

We left the Waitkoto Caves area, and then drove out toward three more scenic stops. First was the Waterfall. Awesome! Then there was another cave; only David and Sam got out of the car for that, which was good because it was really dark. The last stop was actually wheelchair accessible, a natural rock bridge (used to be a cave but the sides fell in). Lovely hikes, all.
Then we headed north, kind of toward Hamilton, but actually off to the coast. We ended up in a seaside resort town, Raglan, at the largest Holiday Park I’ve ever seen. I bet it’s really nice “in the summer” - the kitchen amenities were lovely, and I grilled again.

There’s nothing like a warm bathroom. And that was NOTHING like a warm bathroom! Ice cold, no doors so fresh brisk air from outside. Perfect for summer cleaning off the beach sand. That’s about it, though.

I made a nice dinner of lamb chops (from Wellington) and pasta. In the morning, pancakes. The instant pancake mix here is better than the Bisquik at home, and all the butter I’m usuing certainly helps.

Got out, drove around the area a bit, and then off to another waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls (I know, there’s one in Yosemite too). Met up with an older couple, Lynne & Les, who we’d also seen on yesterday’s afternoon stops, so we walked first to the top and then to the bottom of the falls while talking to them. Interesting couple, from Napier. Their grandkids had spent three and a half years living in the Czech Republic.

Then we drove. And drove. Through the middle of nowhere (again) for a long time, until eventually we got to Route 1. We made it to the area of Auckland we needed by about 2:30, so we stopped for a quick late lunch before David’s dentist appointment. The dental clinic was in  the shopping mall (where we had lunch), so the kids and I walked around while he was in his appointment.

Only took 30 minutes, and his tooth looks perfectly fine now! And since there was also a medical clinic, I decided to get Sofia’s finger checked out. It had been really infected, and although we’d lanced and drained it, it was still hurting her. So now she’s on an antibiotic.

Then we made our way to our LAST campground. One more night. We decided this morning that we will check in to the hotel a day early. Whew.

This campground is north of Auckland, just about 10 minutes out of the city. Very urban, sort of slummy area, but we met some really nice people, who apparently live here full time. Apartments in Auckland are very very expensive and hard to come by. This one lady, Elaine, lives in one of the motel bungalows, and is loaning her campervan out to another young couple.

It was so nice to have conversation again! Elaine is really interesting. She’s from England, and has lived in China and Australia and Canada, as a single mom. Ex husband is Nigerian, in China. Converted a school bus into a camper home. I gave her some advice on blogging!

Now we’re eating dinner, and getting ready for our last night of campervan. Hooray!

Saturday, August 18

Well, it really was quite the trailer park. Lots of chatter all evening. But we made it through, and got out before 10am.

Into Auckland we go. Went directly to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure - mostly an aquarium, with a really large penguin cave and a huge tank with a conveyor belt through.

Then we went to the hotel! Nice hotel. Huge. Nice. Flashy/fancy. Clean. Lovely.

Checked in; of course could not park the campervan in the regular parking, so we’re parked in a little side cove. Got our rooms, an immediately discovered that they were not actually interconnected, so then they moved us to another floor. We’ll have to move again tomorrow. When we added the extra night, the connected rooms note got ignored. So we’re on the 6th floor now and moving to a club floor, either 11 or 12, tomorrow, but at least with two connected rooms.

The rooms were not totally ready, so we walked down to find food. We were really hungry, and it took a long time to walk down, but eventually we found food. Then we walked around the waterfront for a while, and then up Queen Street to return to the hotel.

Got the kids settled into the rooms, and David and I went down to pack up the camper van. Got everything upstairs with the help of one of the Concierge trainees who has been very helpful all day.

Let the bathing begin! Sofia had a really nice long soak, and then so did I. Each bathroom has a stall shower and a huge bathtub. Lovely.

Now I’m trying to rearrange all the luggage. We have an enormous pile of laundry; we’ll go do that first thing in the morning and then drop off the van. Everyone is bathing, and watching TV and relaxing. Ahhhh...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A long week's worth of posts

Monday August 13

Yes they did! I found my credit card! Once we left the campervan parking lot, we drove back to the Jewish Center. The Kosher Co-op was locked (doesn’t open again until Wednesday), but I went in to the Holocaust Memorial to inquire, and sure enough, they had it in the office!

That was the highlight of the day.

It was a rough night for me. We had the heat on, which is run off the diesel fuel. And which STINKS. I just could not breathe. I was up from midnight until well after 2am. At one point, I even sat outside (it was a gorgeous, albeit damp, night) reading my Nook. Andd I turned off the heat and opened some windows.

I also don’t feel well. First Micah and then Sofia had stuffy noses (she still does) and now I do, too. Stuffy nose, post nasal drip, clogged ears, the works. Yuck.

We got up, I showered, and we went across the street for breakfast. Poor Sam was freaked out by the city noise: he’d counted 14 police sirens and 8 fire trucks over the course of the night, and he was just SO not comfortable! He’s been reading “The Freedom Rider’s Diary” for school, and it’s about inner city toughness and gang wars and drug dealers and drive by shootouts. Not comfy for my well-sheltered child!

After breakfast, we stopped at the Jewish Center, and then headed off to Weta Caves in Miramar, the museum for Peter Jackson’s shop for Lord of the Rings and all his other movies. Cool, although small. There was a little boxed in play area, and Sofia was SO happy to stay there. “Bye, Mommy. Stay here.”

[Oh, that was another funny Sofia story. Yesterday, at the Wellington Museum, during the holographic movie that she liked so much, one of the characters says, “Who are you?” in a very strong tone. Sofa obligingly answered: “Sofia. And Mama. And Micah. And Wheelchair. And Stuff.”]

On the walk back to the van, Sofia was dancing, and then suddenly called out “Fosse. And Robins!” (quotes from Madagascar 2).

On the way to Weta, David had done a U-turn, unfortunately using a very steep driveway. The spare tire is now in the middle of the living space rather than under the back bumper...

After Weta, it was time to get out of Wellington. We drove up Route 1, which is the highway along the West coast of the North Island. We stopped at a McDonalds for a while so David could try to download his emails. I made some tuna sandwiches, bought the boys their fish sandwiches, and some fries. Sofia played in the play area (they have nice ones here), and Micah watched the animated “The Sword in the Stone” in the Birthday Party room. Sam, of course, thought we were not allowed to be in the Birthday Party room, so he stayed in the main restaurant section with David.

Then we drove up to Wainganui. I slept most of the ride, to catch up on last night.  We decided to come this far rather than stop in Palmerston North. It was a gorgeous day, really pretty sky. Of course it started raining when we pulled in to the campervan park!

We stopped in town at the Visitor’s Center to get info, and then came straight to the park. I had TONS of laundry to do. Fortunately, this time the machines all worked well. Then Micah and Sofia and I walked across the street to the extensive playground (complete with zip line!) next to the beach. David joined us, but Sam was still freaking out so he stayed in the van and read his book.

We watched the sun set, and had fun with the zip line and other climbing structures. Then we came back to start on dinner.

The kids watched a movie and David did some work while I cooked on the grill and in the public area. Yummy meal of lamb shoulder and rice and broccoli and onions and a few pieces of kosher pepperoni.

The boys did the dish washing while I got Sofia ready for bed. David was about to take some more things to them in the kitchen, when he fell getting out of the van (we’d put the spare tire down as a step, and his foot got caught inside!). His ankle is sore, but the worst is that he chipped his front tooth :( So he’s pretty bummed now, and trying to figure out what to do.

Sam is finally on an upswing, and being REALLY helpful now. He’s made all the beds and swept the floor and put away the laundry. Ah, I love a good mood swing on the up-side!

Getting ready for bed, and I’ll probably watch a movie with the boys. Some cool stuff to do tomorrow in this area, and then probably continuing north.

Wednesday August 15

Well, Tuesday was odd. We left the campground and went to the Towers. One of the only two Land Elevators in the world - you walk through a tunnel for 200m to get to an elevator that goes straight up through the mountain! At the top are these two towers, which I think were built as memorials. I climbed one of them with Sofia and Sam. Possibly not the best idea for someone who is claustrophobic, afraid of heights, and has a head cold. But I made it.

The kids had fun climbing to the tops of the towers. The view was spectacular. It’s right on a river, and near the Tasman Sea.

Then we drove. David was in a grouchy mood because of his tooth, so he wanted to move on to someplace else, so we headed to New Plymouth.

I had not slept well at all, due in part to my cold and in part to Sofia sleeping on top of me all night. So I slept in the car again, which did not cheer poor David any. We stopped in the middle of nowhere for lunch at a small cafe. Great fish burgers and chips. The cafe/teahouse is for sale, and also has a whole “garage sale” section of antique junk.

Drove on, through some rain but mostly decent weather. The highway goes fairly close to the Sea, so the view was lovely. Made it to Oakuna for the campground aroudn 4pm, which is early for us. The campground was right on the beach! When Sofia saw it, she started screaming “Beach! Beach!” We had to run up to the grocery store first, and of course when we got back to the campground it started raining. But only for a few minutes. Then it was actually fairly nice (although still damp) for a few hours. I cooked dinner (a huge kosher chicken that I’d bought in Wellington on Friday) while David and the boys took a walk along the beach and Sofia played. Most of the campgrounds have trampolines (or, as Sofia says, “jumpoline”), so that keeps them busy and happy. We got to watch the sun set over the water while I cooked, and then we came inside the trailer once it got dark, to eat dinner.

I fell asleep on Sofia’s bed while she watched a movie on her machine and the boys all watched a movie on my laptop in the back. I really needed the sleep. I must have had a fever, because a few hours later I woke up sweating and feeling MUCH better. This morning I continued to feel better, so I guess I’m back on the upswing.

It POURED all night. Monsooned. So much rain! We ran between ...

(We just passed a dead cow on the side of the road!)

...the raindrops to get to the bathroom. I have managed to take a shower all but one day here, when the cost was just stupid. Today it was .50c for 5 minutes, which I could handle. (I think the day I skipped, it was something like $2.00 for 5 minutes).

I tried to find David a dentist in New Plymouth, but the soonest they could see him was Friday, so we decided to try for Auckland on Friday. So we drove in to New Plymouth, to find the library.

Awesome library. A huge research center, with multiple floors and sections. Made me wish I was working on a research project again! The WiFi is free at the libraries, so that’s a good place for us. David settled in upstairs, while the kids and I went to the Children’s Section in the basement for a few hours. Sofia played with toys and on the children’s computer, the boys played on their iPhone/iPad, and I got online (although since I had not written this yet, I could not post a blog post).

I found a dentist in Auckland who can take David on Friday afternoon, which gives us enough time to get there. His tooth doesn’t hurt, and we spoke to our dentist yesterday. All he needs is to have it bonded, to cover up the crack. He did not chip it far enough to damage a nerve, which is great news.

After a couple of hours at the library, we went to the food court at the mall for lunch. The kids finally had sushi, and grownups finally had Indian food. Both are plentiful in New Zealand, although I was completely unimpressed by the Indian food. Very bland. Maybe a real restaurant would be tastier.

Now we are driving (in the rain, or course) up to the Waitomo Caves. The rain is coming down sideways, and it’s quite windy. My husband just commented that “all we need now is lightening.” I’m a bit afraid...

8:30 pm

Did I mention it’s raining?

It just keeps coming down. Driving was interesting. Like driving in a cloud. It was dark the whole time. And the land is very lush, volcanic, dense growth. Really unusual. The ride would be pretty in the summer (we decided that everything here would be fine “in the summer”).

We got to the iSite (Visitor’s Center) at the Caves a bit after 5pm (which is when they close) but the guy there was still able to help us book our tour for tomorrow. We’re going on a boat ride to see the glow-worm caves, and then some other tour.

Picked what we thought would be the less expensive Holiday Park (what they call a Camp Ground, since they also have cabins). There was one, a Top10, right across the road from the Visitor’s Center, but Top10 usually is the most expensive.

Can’t imagine it being more than this, a Kiwi-brand park about 15 minutes away. $70! They charge per person, not per site. Outrageous. And the laundry was $4 for wash, $2 for dryer (which needed to be run twice anyway). I think we’ve spent more than $50 just on laundry this trip.

Dinner was all leftovers, except I had a Meat Pie (very popular here, and I picked up a couple at the Kosher Co-op). Sam also got a Smoothie at the Fitness Center (which of course was an extra charge, so we did not go in.

We did manage to get Sofia showered. The bathrooms are nice, individual unisex units like in Masterson. We took Sofia to the Accessible stall, and put her on the shower chair and used the sprayer to clean her and wash her hair. At home she still takes baths, so she hates showers, and squirms like crazy. This at least was a little easier, because she was stuck on the chair (which was actually quite high).

I picked up some Sudafed back in New Plymouth, and gave to both boys (and I took some). I’m feeling much better, so hopefully the boys will be better tomorrow. They are being real troopers, though. Micah especially. I did make him use his inhaler tonight. He’s been coughing a lot today.

Kids are all in bed, either asleep or reading. David has work to do on his computer. I’m gonna read my Nook book (some Youth series in to “The Giver” and “The Hunger Games” genre of creepy future society). Tomorrow, caves, and then off to either Hamilton or Auckland.

And did I mention it’s raining?

Thursday August 16

After a damp night, stressing about missing our ticketed time, we got up and showered and fed and out the “door” in plenty of time.

The first stop was the GlowWorm Cave Tour. Really spectacular. The boat ride portion alone was worth the price of admission. Simply magical.

Then we raced over to the Aranui Cave, but somehow missed the 10am tour. We sat around for an hour waiting. It was kind of nice to have some down time. The kids explored, David made a call, and I read.

The guide came back for the 11am tour, and he was very nice. It was really spectacular in the caves.

Now we’re stopped for lunch - and free WiFi - so poor Sofia is the only one not frantically typing away!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rainy Sunday in Wellington

Sunday August 12

Rainy day today, for a change ;)

I got up and went directly to a shower. The amenities block is basic but the shower rooms have enough space. We got up, had some breakfast, and were out a little after 9am.

Walked through the rain to the bottom station of the Cable Car, and took the cable car all the way up to the top. Stopped for coffee/tea/snacks at the top, then checked out the Cable Car Museum (which was very small). Sam got grouchy because I wouldn’t buy him another necklace.

Then it sort of stopped raining, so we spent the next few hours walking around the Botanical Gardens. It was lovely, although quite damp. Lots of hills (it’s on the whole hillside).

Stopped for lunch near the Rose Garden, a nice Nicoise Salad, Fish Cakes, and some cheese sandwiches (including one on gluten-free bread). Then back up to the Cable Car stop so we could ride down to the bottom again.

By then (actually, after lunch) it was raining again. We walked straight over to the Fine Art Museum, which was only a block away. Unfortunately, the exhibit was too intense for the kids - photos from the news about all sorts of war and hardship through the past year around the world (and there’s plenty to see of that).

Then we went across the way to the Museum of Wellington Sea and Land. Very cool museum. There was a nifty holographic movie of some Maori legends, including one about the Queen of Fire. Sofia was VERY taken with it, and demanded to watch is 4 times (and kept talking about it throughout the rest of the day).

After that museum, we walked in the rain back to the Te Papa museum, and spent the rest of the afternoon there. Mostly I spent the time in the Children’s Discovery areas with Micah and Sofia (although I also took them for another snack). David and Sam got to walk around more. I was wiped out. My tummy wasn’t feeling great, and I was really tired.

Once David and Sam caught up to us, we realized we were all pretty tired (except Sofia!). We picked a cool restaurant for dinner - “Chow”, an Asian “whole foods” place with really interesting menu. It was a few blocks from the museum.

The food was terrific, and the first waitress was very helpful in terms of finding something Micah could eat (lots of sesame and nuts on the menu). And Micah was so picky, he didn’t eat much anyway. But once the restaurant started getting crowded, service slowed ot a crawl. Nice, but slow.

Long walk back in the rain and dark. Interesting feeling, walking through the deserted, closed down part of the city after hours, especially when that’s where “home” is. We got back to the van before 8, and now, before 9, I think I’m the only one awake.

Oh, and the kosher co-op does not have my credit card :(

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Thursday August 9

POURING rain all night! But at least that means people slept late. Sofia did not wake until 7:20, and the boys shortly after. David stayed up late last night working because of the free WiFi, which at least means he could get some things done without us hovering over him.


The rain cleared up, and it’s quite a nice day now. 3:09 p;m.

We drove into town, directly to the Faraday Science Center. Which is closed on Thursdays. So we drove on to the National Aquarium. THis was the first time I encountered a “Special Needs Pass”. Basically I got in for free as Sofia’s support person! Very cool. So it cost only $38 for all five of us, rather than the $48 Family Pass plus $7 for an extra child.

The Aquarium was lovely. Small, especially by Boston standards, but really nice. A lovely tank had all the fish from “Finding Nemo” , and I found it oddly comforting.

I’m really sad today. When I logged in this morning, a friend told me about the sudden death of a young teen in Israel with DS. The DS community has lost a whole bunch of kids this summer, but for some reason, this girl really threw me. Perhaps because I am connected with so few Jewish children with DS. Perhaps because I have read the mom’s blog, “Beneath the Wings”, for several years now. But for whatever reason, I shall mourn for Ricki and her family.

So I hug my daughter tight (when she lets me!), and thank G-d she is healthy. And that her brothers are healthy (enough) too.

When we first got to the Aquarium, I had to get some coffee. The counter lady recognized a mom in need, and gave me a double shot. Ahh.

After the Aquarium, we drove back to the city center. The roads in that section are named after camous authors: Tennyson, Shakespeare, Emerson, Thackary, etc. And there were several blocks of pedestrian malls, with various shops. Nice.

We tried to eat at a lovley vegetarian place, but of course Micah could not find anything he wanted. So we went to a cafe down the street, which was yummy (although of course a little pricey). They make a gorgeous stuffed potato, with cheese and vegetables, delicious soups (Sofia had leek & potato, David had some chowder). Micah settled for fish & chips, and Sam had a Salmon Rollade. I also had a cheese & egg scone (shared the potato with Sofia). The boys had something called a Fluffy, which is a kid’s milk drink, with foam from the frother and chocolate and/or caramel and candies.

After lunch we strolled the shopping area. Sam bought a shirt, and I got some gifties for a few people. Also got myself a work-out shirt at a going-out-of-business sale. And we stopped at a candy store. The boys finally got to taste Twinkies! They’ve been begging to taste them, since they watched “Zombieland” (it’s a major plot line), but since they are not actually kosher, I do not want to buy a whole box. This candy store sold them individually. So we let them each try one. I also got some yummy fudge and a few other treats for the road.

We got back in the van and made one more stop, at the Classic Sheepskin Factory Outlet. ool, and you could see all the workings, but everything was still very expensive. Nothing much I wanted to buy.

So now we are leaving Napier. It wasn’t as impressive as we’d hoped. We’re going to try to get down to Masterton, which is a little over 3 hours, but we identified a few other stops along the way if we get tired. We’re trying to make Wellington in time for Shabbat. We’d like to take the kids to shul on Saturday morning.

I miss going to shul when we are on vacation. It gives structure to the week, and is a wonderful communal time, even when we don’t know anyone. The only shuls we could find are in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch (I know, that just sounds weird!). We left Auckland on Thursday, and were in the middle of nowhere on Shabbat. So hopefully we’ll make it to Wellington tomorrow.

Oh, and there’s absolutely NO sign of volcanic ash in Napier. Blue skies. Clear (ish).

10:00 pm Thursday


Yes, we made it all the way down to Masterton, and are staying at the most wonderful campground yet. Nothing fancy: right off the highway, and we are parked on the road because the grass is so muddy. But FREE LAUNDRY. In High Capacity, Energy Efficient, WORKING machines.

Remember last year, in Jerusalem, when we had the only apartment in the country without a washing machine? Didn’t I SWEAR I would never do that again? And yet, here I am, in a metal box on wheels, paying exorbitant prices to use washing machines that often don’t even work (last night’s was the worst, at $4 per machine and the driers required two runs).

So FREE LAUNDRY is really a big big big big deal for me! So far I’ve done three loads, and we plan to do more first thing in the morning.

The bathrooms are lovely, too. Instead of Gents and Ladies, there are a bunch of individual self-contained unites, like a home bathroom with shower. Our hosts tonight are Rodney and Jelena (ok, Farscape fans, I seriously did not know that Jelena was a real name!). Rodney just finished painting some of the bathrooms, so we have to use the ones on the far side of the building. But that’s ok, because that’s the same side as the FREE LAUNDRY.

It took about 3 hours to drive down from Napier to here. Gorgeous country. The area just south of Napier is wine country (although most of the wineries were closed for the winter), with gentle hills and lots of fields. But in the distance, we could see snow-capped mountains!

About two hours south of Napier, we passed through Dannevirke. A little taste of Scandinavia in New Zealand. Vikings everywhere, on all the signs, and most of the shops were in a variety of Scandinavian languages. I saw Copenhagen Square. It was very odd. Cute, but odd.

We stopped a while later at a grocery store in the middle of nowhere. Sofia and I had a lovely time shopping. She was very huggy, which is always fun. And New Zealand has a most impressive selection of gluten-free foods available in grocery stores and in restaurants. So I got cereal that all of them will eat (chocolate Os). Sofia tried to convince me to make gluten-free cupcakes, but really, this kitchen is not set up for it.

Got to Masterton a little after 7pm, and immediately (after putting in a load of laundry) started dinner. Tahitian Fish Stew: coconut milk, regular milk, butter, red pepper, and pieces of fish (Hoki, which I’ve never heard of before, but it was cheap and I checked to make sure it was a fins-and-scales fish [which would make it kosher]). Made buttered rice (and buttered pasta for Micah, who refuses rice). Everyone liked it!

Their tummies are all a bit unsettled when we got here, but hopefully they will feel better in the morning. Clean bathrooms help ;)

Saturday night, August 11

Well, that was a busy couple of days!

We did more laundry, and everyone took showers (except Sofia, because it was too cold out) in the morning, so we finally got out after 10:30. Drove down State Road 2, which is what passes for a major highway here (not even close!). Stopped to see “Stonehenge Aeroterea”, which turned out to be 1) closed and 2) some meticulously built thing for Wiccans and Druids and various Celtic groups. We did manage to see it, because we drove a little further up the hill. It was a gorgeous side ride, anyway.

So we meandered our way through farmlands and rolling hills covered with sheep and cows and horses and deer (yup, venison farms).

And then we hit the mountains. A long, long, curvy road up through a mountain range. Gorgeous, and slightly terrifying (at least this time we were on the inside track).

Near the top, there was a parking lot, so we pulled off and there was a hiking trail. Poor Micah was not feeling well, so he stayed in the camper and slept, but the rest of us took a hike. Up. And Up. And Up.

Sofia was doing great, and I had to force her to turn around half-way (going down was much more difficult). Sam and David went all the way up to the top of the ridge. Very cool!

It was a little after 1:00 when they returned, and we realized we had to book it to get to Wellington in time to get to the Kosher Co-op before it closed (2:30 on Friday). We made it, though, with about 20 minutes to spare. (And then I left my Visa card there; will be calling first thing Sunday morning when they re-open. Already left a message, too.)

After I got the kosher meat stocked up, we checked out the waterfront campervan park. Literally on the waterfront, kind of to the side of the parking lot down the block from the ferry. Powered sites and an “ablutions block” (toilets and showers), but no kitchen or laundry. I was kind of stressed about Micah being sick and having so much (frozen) meat to cook, so we ended up not staying in town Friday night, much to David’s initial annoyance (he calmed down way before I did, though!).

So we drove back out of town, to Hutt Park in Petone. Standard “Top 10” brand Holiday Park with all the amenities. We settled in, and I made a late lunch (kosher sausages, which they devoured).

After lunch we drove back out in search of a grocery store. This time we all went in, for the adventure. David is funny in a grocery store. He always wants to buy the oddest stuff, things we’d never actually use but that seem cool.

Got out, and back to the campground after dark (again, too late for Shabbat candles, bummer). Part of the reason we’d wanted to get to Wellington by Friday was for Shabbat. When we’d stopped at the deli, I had spoken with someone about what time services were.

Anyway, after a simple dinner of pasta, we all watched a movie on the laptop and got to sleep. Woke up early to get ready for shul. Made it in to the Orthodox shul before 10am.

A lovely building. Since it’s Orthodox, the men sit downstairs and the women sit upstairs. I took Sofia up with me. It was still early, so it was fairly empty, although it did fill up later. There was a bar mitzvah, with lots of guests in from around the world. The bar mitzvah boy read the entire parasha (which means he chanted the whole weekly portion of the Torah, in Hebrew - a tough undertaking - and he did really well). There were also a lot of Israelis (including the rabbi).

Sofia lasted about half the service, and then I took her outside to the playground. I did manage to get in some nice conversations with other moms, including a woman who teaches children with Autism. She asked interesting questions about Sofia; she said she does not get to see many kids with DS, and she’s curious about the differences between the disabilities. I told her that DS is “The Cadillac of Disabilities”, and she thought that was hysterical (so do I!).

Sofia did great on the playground, waiting her turn and saying “excuse me” if someone was in her way. She also had her Woody doll (from Toy Story), and that kept her amused all morning. At one point, she spotted a bicycle (the building is also a preschool) and helmet, and took them out to the courtyard. I have never seen her ride a bike like that! She did great!
The boys stayed in with David. Sam and David borrowed tallitot (prayer shawls). I was pleased that Micah stayed in the whole time. Sofia sat with them for the last few prayers (children younger than 12 or 13 are allowed in either section).

We did not stay for kiddush, although we were invited to do so, because Sofia was in a grouchy mood. Her skirt had gotten wet while playing, and she wanted to change.

So we left, and this time we did go to the waterfront campervan park. Got changed into more comfortable clothing, and started walking, in search of food and adventure. We meandered through the underground market, and Micah and I both got some cool necklaces. The boys have been buying bone necklaces, which are very popular Maori items (David has one from Tahiti). I got an antique necklace-watch, very pretty.

It took us a long while to find a place to eat, but eventually we had bagels and pizza. Then we went to the Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand.

Beautiful building, and looked like nice exhibits, but mostly I was busy chasing Sofia, who was busy checking out everything. Finally she settled in to one of the “discovery centers” (play spaces).

And that’s where I met Natalie. Of course I could manage to meet the only Persian-Jewish special needs mama from Long Island (with an Israeli husband) in the middle of Wellington!

We started chatting because of our kids; she’d noticed how well Sofia was doing (Sofia had found the computer games, and was busy “making lunch” on the computer). Her son has undefined delays, possibly Aspergers, and facial features that look similar to DS but without the chromosomal difference.

I love when I meet a kindred spirit. Ultimately, we left the museum with them and ended up going to their home for dinner (take-away fish and chips). They live about a mile and a half from the museum, so it was a nice walk. And just so nifty to be with another family with so much connection.

Micah had a blast, Sofia was comfy in her wheelchair. Sam was too nervous about the long walk back (the area we had to walk is by the government buildings, so on Saturday evening it’s fairly deserted). It was really fun.

We got back to the camper around 8:30. Sofia went right to sleep, and the boys not too soon after. I’m catching up on the blogging (since my laptop was used for the movie last night, I could not type). Bed soon.

We have the heat running, and I’m kind of afraid it’s gassing us. Stinky and my eyes water. But it’s very cold without it.

More Wellington city tomorrow. We’ll stay in the camper van lot one more night, and then get out of town on Monday. Hopefully I’ll retrieve my Visa card, too!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tuesday & Wednesday - Redwoods, Taupo, Hidden Valley, Napier

Tuesday August 7
A bit of a crazy day. The morning was taken up with preparing the campervan and all it contains - David had to figure out how to dump the waste tanks and fill the water tanks, while I dried towels and packed us back up for travel after three nights in our lovely campground in Rotorua.

We had planned to head towards Napier, but there was a volcanic eruption overnight, and Hawkes Bay, including Napier, is covered with ash. We’ll see how tomorrow looks, but for now we decided to go to Taupo.

We left the campground at 10:30 and headed first for the redwood forest. That was lovely - redwoods brought from the west coast of the US, growing beautifully in the rainforest of Rotorua. In the information center, Sofia showed the lady her ballet moves (having watched “Bella Dancerella” all morning), so the lady gave all the kids key chains.

Micah was in A MOOD, and angry at David. So while we were hiking, Micah went too far ahead, and we could not see or hear him. Boy, did he get in trouble when we finally caught up! After that, David and Sam took one of the longer trails while I took Micah and Sofia on the shortest trail. Good thing, too: we got back to the parking lot at exactly the same time, thanks to Sofia’s many staged sit-ins. Took forever!

But it really was gorgeous.

After the redwoods, we stopped at the department store to get me a sweater (only $20) and another pair of pants for Sofia (she sits in water too often!). We also tried getting her some boots, but she lost interests. Also, Micah managed to find a kindred spirit at the electronics store: the guy helped him charge up his NintendoDS3 (his cord broke while we were still in SF), and eventually we even found a replacement cord! That made for a much happier Micah.

By then it was after 1 and we were all very hungry. We drove to a pizza place, but it was closed, so we drove back to the city centre. That was a bad idea - David got VERY stressed driving the campervan in the city center, and he got angry because we could not find free parking or an open pizza place. We finally managed to park (back at the Rotorua Museum), and then walked about 8 blocks to Hell’s Pizza. CUTE concept, delicious pizza. I’ll post their website another time. Even had gluten free for Sofia, and dessert pizza.

While we waited for the pizza to cook, I took Sam to the pharmacy to get a splint for his finger, which still hurts a lot. Again, David didn’t think he needed it, which is causing tension between them, but I think that if it makes the child feel better, it’s worth while, even if it doesn’t do his finger any more good than just taping.

Back to the car around 3:30 to head out. Took late to really do anything else, unfortunately. But it was a lovely ride down. Taupo is on a lake, and is a resort town. Bad idea. EXPENSIVE. This campsite cost us $70 with the 10% discount (we have a FamilyParks pass), and the three boys had to pay another $26 to go use the pool (which apparently is a whole big splash park, and we got 1/2 price as residents).

They’re still swimming. Sofia’s asleep. I think I’m exhausted and will go join her. Tomorrow we’ll head out early to go to some cool caves.

Wednesday August 8

Better day. Got up and dressed and breakfasted and out fairly early, 9:30. Headed directly to...McDonalds. They have free WiFi. Sat there for an hour while David did work and I did email and Sam used his iPad and Micah grouched around and Sofia played on the playground.

Eventually David extricated himself from emails and work, and we got back in the car. Took about 25 minutes to get to our destination: Orakei Korako (“The Hidden Valley”) Cave and Thermal Park.

Gorgeous. Magnificent. Breathtaking.

First we took a quick 2 minute ferry ride from the visitor center to the park on the other side of the lake. Then we wandered. There’s a boarded path for the whole route, because you don’t want to walk in the boiling water of the thermal pools!

It was huge, and spectacular. Really a great morning. It was supposed to take an hour and a half but probably took us longer because Sofia had a few sit-ins again. David carried her for a few minutes (and they both fell), but then I gave her a camera and that distracted her enough so she could walk the rest of the way.

Of course, Sofia liked the ferry boat ride best of all; I think she would have been happy just to ride back and forth all day with the boat driver lady. But when we got back to the Visitor center, there was a very large and very calm dog (looked like a greyhound) waiting to be hugged and petted. The perfect end to that trip.

We went back to Taupo in search of lunch. Found it in the form of some delicious soups, curries, risottos and health shakes. Well, all of us except Micah. He just could not find something he wanted to eat, and he just kept getting more and more miserable. When we were all done, I did take him in to three other places, but he still could not find something he wanted, so I gave up. He ate some bread in the campervan.

He’s good, really, except when he’s terrible. And he and Sam get along great, except when they hate each other!

We drove two hours from Taupo to Napier, through some incredible mountain ranges, up and down and twisty and turny roads. I’m glad I wasn’t driving! (I fell asleep).

Got into Napier just before dark, got settled into the camp ground on the edge of town. The problem with these camp grounds is that they say “$28 per camper” but that means for the first 2 adults. It’s $7 per child, too. And this one charges $0.50 per shower, and $4 (instead of $2) for each laundry machine cycle. And of course the dryers do not dry on the first cycle.

After dinner, I got Sofia to sleep, and the boys played dice in the van, getting along very nicely, while David and I sat outside (first night that was possible!) working on our laptops together. At least this place offers free wifi, which is a BIG change!

I had the  boys go check the laundry, and when they discovered it was still wet, I had them go to the office to ask for help, which means the guy put more money in the dryer for us. Whew.

Just as it started to rain, forcing David and I back inside, the boys started fighting again. So they brushed teeth (although not without fighting and the older one bursting into tears of frustration), and they are in bed. We, being the exciting couple we are, are still working on our laptops. But I have to go get the laundry...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

So Expensive!

This isn't a real post, just a stop-over at McDonalds to use the free Wifi, let Sofia play on a relatively dry playground, get some coffee and cocoa, and let Micah be a total GROUCH because they don't have French Fries or Fish sandwiches until after 10:30.

The campground last night was wicked expensive. We are in Taupo, which is a lakeside resort town, and priced accordingly. David and the boys paid another $26 to use the pool facility (which apparently was really cool) last night, while Sofia and I went to sleep early.

There was a volcanic erruption yesterday which made Napier, where we were planning to go, get covered in ash, so we stopped here in Taupo instead. I have to go check the weather now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday August 6 - lions and mountains

We did manage some really nice adventures today! Got up and made pancakes again (the Edmunds instant pancake batter in a jar is much better than the Bisquik back home!), and got out before 10am. Went straight to the Skyline.

So this is the deal: first we took a gondola up to the top of a mountain. At least that was enclosed, so I was ok. Got up to the top, walked around a bit, and went to the Luge.

Luge! Like little sleds on a hill. A big hill. Mountain, actually.

Yep, I went there.

Had to wear helmets (whew), and Sofia sat on my lap. David and the boys took off first - David said he kept going too fast, and had to slow down to let the boys catch up. Of course Sam crashed, but no injury.

Sofia and I were behind them. Way behind them. Like we stopped about 4 times, and got stuck, and I had to push with my legs on the ground to get going again. But it was fun, really. Too slow for Sofia - she kept asking to go faster.

The guys met us at the bottom (which seemed like a long way down), and then we rode up on the chairlift. Yes, a chairlift.

I hate chairlifts.

A lot.

Sofia loved it, and Micah kept looking behind (he and Sam were in the chair ahead of us) and making fun of us. I was terrified. Sofia sat on David’s lap and had a blast.

So when we got back to the top, I bought one more luge ride, and the boys and David and Sofia all went down again. This time they got to take the harder trails. Sofia kept urging David to go faster and faster, but he was already going pretty fast.

I, meanwhile, had coffee and a scone. Much more civilized!

When they got up, the kids had a snack, and then we took the gondola back down the mountain. Then we headed to Pleasant Valley, which is sort of an animal park.

Really nice place. We got to pet baby lion cubs (5 months old), and see grown-up lions being fed. Saw all sorts of local birds and animals, and drank out of a natural spring. Sofia drank a lot; we could barely pull her away. At the spring, we got into a col conversation with a local guy, about politics, and a herd of Japanese tourists took Sofia’s picture over and over again.

It was a lovely place, and actually worth the price (which seemed steep at first). We stayed until it started to rain (and I got another migraine). By then it was after 3:30.

Headed back into Rotorua City Center, and stopped at the grocery store and someplace for David to buy flip-flops (a necessity at a camp ground; he’s been walking barefoot, which is not fun). Saw a gorgeous rainbow, too.

Then back to the campground. Since it’s Monday, the place is really empty (no weekend campers). David and I spent a long time getting a grill to work, with the help of one of the hosts. But eventually it worked, and I grilled the rest of the kosher meat. Yummy dinner of lamb, hamburger, salami, rice, and honey carrots. And wine ;) We had a really fun time at dinner. Lots of joking and cuddling and tickling once the food was done.

David and I are too tired to take the boys swimming, and Sofia is already asleep (8:08pm). Sam is annoyed that he can’t go swimming, but Micah is fairly laid back about it.

Leaving Rotorua tomorrow, heading to Taupo and then Napier. Not sure what we’re doing on the way, but probably some caves and a little trek.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday August 5

It was cold overnight, but we had the heater running and the blankets are very warm. Still, none of us slept very well for some reason. Se we had a slow morning. There was finally some sunshine, so the kids went outside to play on the very nice playground (with a large treehouse), while David did some work on his laptop.

Finally got out a little after 11, and headed to the Rotorua Museum, which is in an enormous mansion that once served as a Bath House, a place were people came for “The Cure” of the hot springs therapeutic water. The museum was lovely, but my family was not. David kept getting angry at Sofia, who was being really difficult, and Micah kept bouncing which made everyone fly off the handle, and Sam was in a mood. So it was just miserable.

So I did what any sane woman would do: I sat down and started to cry. Just a little. Enough to get first Micah and then David to chill out!

I sent the three boys off to work on the museum-provided scavenger hunt sheets; I told the boys to consider it Mandatory Homework, and I told David to use patience, and to not engage when Micah tried to argue. I think that all worked; the three of them kept very busy for the next several hours, exploring and looking and hopefully learning.

I took Miss Difficult to the coffee shop (they even had a gluten-free cookie!), and then a quick spin through the museum. I did not get to see as much as I would have on my own, but I did see enough. Eventually she and I went outside to enjoy the air. She picked lots of grass and had me make a pile “not on floor; on bench”. When it got too cold (I did not have my sweater with me) we went back in for restrooms and to find the boys.

When we were done with the museum, we piled back into the camper to head into downtown Rotorua and do some shopping. But as we were loading in, David accidentally slammed the door on Sam’s finger :( Poor boy. He was really crying a lot. We got him calmed down, put “ice” (actually a frozen kosher pepperoni) on it, and then we went to the pharmacy (at the hospital) to get tape to keep it stiff. We can’t tell if it’s broken; it might be, but we’ll keep taping it, which is about all you can do. He was in pain for a while, but tonight he was a little better (except when touching it).

Ok, so that was a fail. We were going to snack in the car, but by then we needed something more substantial, so we stopped for a light late lunch instead. Then some shopping - both boys got bone necklaces, Sam’s in a hook shape like David has and Micah’s in the shape of a tiki.

We got back to the campground around 5:30. Sofia and Micah were tired and hungry, so I gave them the leftover pasta from the other day (rice pasta for Sofia) and put them to bed (actually, Micah watched a movie on the laptop while Sofia fell asleep next to him).

David, Sam and I went swimming, and I did laundry again. It’s nearly 9pm now, all the kids are asleep, and I’ll be asleep as soon as I finish posting this. Tired and stressful day. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. We plan to have some adventures.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hosted by Hobbits!

Friday August 3 5:00pm
Some observations from the road.

We drove through a Gorge today. Aside from the incredibly curvy roads being somewhat terrifying, it was beautiful. In general the land is very flat and just covered in green fields (usually with cows or sheep grazing). Then suddenly there’s a mountain, the remnant of a volcano.

And that’s where I see the Pacific Ocean lands’ interconnectedness. The vegetation on the mountainsides is a combination of things, but what I most notice are the Palm Trees. It reminds me so much of Tahiti, even though the flat lands do not.

We went to the Matilda Gold Mine in Waiku this afternoon. It was worth it! Humungous mine, which they are currently preparing to fill in for a lake. Except for the rain, it was a great little hike, and the boys were so impressed. When we first got to the top of the mine, Micah yelled into the walkie talkie “Mom, you’ve gotta come see this. It’s Awesome!” That’s what I call a worthwhile side trip.

Now we are on our way to Matamata for the evening. I don’t think we’ll make it in time to light Shabbat candles, unfortunately. But I do plan a nice dinner - burgers, lamb chops, and chicken legs. Something for everyone (Sofia has been requesting chicken “strings” [leg bones] for 4 days now).

The kids are doing ok today. Micah is so good when he takes care of Sofia. Sam has less patience for her, or for helping anyone. Micah is fine if he doesn’t remember to argue. They did all play with non-electronic toys on the way from Miranda to Waiku, but now the two littles are watching a movie while Sam plays on his iPad. We just told him he should be reading his school books.

The ladies in the Visitor’s Centers have been really nice, but mostly people keep to themselves. Not unfriendly, just not open. The kids do break that barrier more often, especially Sofia, who is just so darn cute.

I love listening to Sofia giggle, which she is doing now as they watch “Madagascar”.

Saturday, August 4 - Hosted By Hobbits!

Well, that was interesting. Matamata is where they filmed the Shire scenes for the Lord of the Rings movies, and many of the locals had parts as Hobbit extras.

We got to the campground well after dark, and actually had to park in the parking lot rather than in a regular site. The host/owner said an unexpected caravan had shown up, and also, many of the campers were getting stuck in the mud anyway.

I did not think twice when I first met the gentleman. He was just a short, squat, friendly campground owner. But when I went back in to the office for something and met his wife, I knew our hosts were truly Hobbits! She was just lovely. Not tall, not thin, with lovely blond hair and chubby cheeks and a friendly air. I kept coming up with excuses to go back in to speak with her; the air around her seemed enchanted.

Aside from being owned by Hobbits, the campground (Opal Springs Holiday Park in Matamata) was not much to write home about. There was a giant hot pool, open to the public, and all evening there was a busload of junior high students screaming around. The campground facilities were simple - only two showers per gender, a separate building for the toilet facilities, a tiny kitchen and TV lounge, and two laundry machine sets that unfortunately were not terrific (and were twice as expensive as elsewhere). I spent several hours after dinner doing laundry, only to end up with a bag of wet laundry.

Sofia had fallen asleep before we got to the campground, and stayed asleep (so no chicken last night). Which also means she woke up at 4:30 again. Sigh. Tonight we’re keeping her up late!

I made a dinner of lamb chops, burgers, and rice & onions. Took a while to figure out the campervan’s grill, but eventually it worked. The guys all went right to sleep after dinner; I read my book out by the laundry while I waited. It was quite warm in the van (to me, at least), and lovely and cool outside.

Despite Micah and Sofia waking up so early, it took us forever to get out in the morning. I think we finally left the campground around 11:30 (usually checkout time is 10am).

Headed directly to Firth Tower & Museum, which was a great stop. Just a bunch of historic buildings, with really nice and thorough displays of how things were in Matamata for the last 130 years. Very personal - displays on the Boer War, The “Great” War, World War II, and the Korean War. A fully furnished great-house. Wonderful audio descriptions. Photos and audio of the actual occupants.

The kids enjoyed it, too. Eventually, however, I felt that the clouds were getting too ominous, so we left and went in to Matamata town. On the way in, I got a blinding migraine, out of the blue. Bummer.

We stopped for lunch at the Kaimai Cheese Cafe. Yummy, but expensive. And here, we met a very friendly couple who gave us all sorts of advice on things to do and see on our next few stops.

After lunch, we headed to Rotorua, where we will stay a few days. There are three large chains of campgrounds, and you can buy a discount pass. We decided to stay in FamilyParks, because that was the first campground, in Miranda, and I likes the facilities. So we are at the All Seasons Family Park in Rotorua. Good choice. The hostess is a very friendly lady who had lots of helpful information. The facilities (kitchen, showers, etc.) are great (and I finally have dry laundry). And there is an indoor thermal hot pool! Rotorua is on a hot springs lake - there is steam coming off the water all day.

We all went for a swim, and then back for showers and dinner. Now, nearly 8pm, Sam is reading, the others are watching Cinderella (Sofia is on David’s lap) and I’m blogging and drying the towels and bathing suits. There’s a lot for us to do in the Rotorua area, so we will stay at least two nights here (maybe three - the third night is free).

I’ll post pictures next time we go to a library. I had to buy an Internet card, and it’s only good for an hour, so I want to minimize my time online (uploading photos takes too long).

Still rainy and overcast, but the lady we were speaking to at lunch said it’s supposed to get better soon. I hope so. Sam and I keep getting headaches from the greyness.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tuesday - Friday; We survived our first night in the campervan

Thursday, August 2 
Whew! That was a darn long few days.

 Let’s see. Tuesday morning they actually slept a tiny bit later. I think I got out of bed after 7:30 am. Took the two little ones down to breakfast, and David and Sam actually joined us not too much later.

Then we all got ready for a swim, and laundry. David had a lot of work to do in preparation for a conference call, so I went down to the pool with the kids. Had to wait for the laundry - even though it said there was a laundry on each floor, there was only one set of machines for the whole hotel. Bah.

Sofia swam like crazy, and the boys had fun going between the hot tub and the pool. I did laundry. Again, it said the machines were 30 minutes, but they were more like 45. Hard to plan.

Eventually we all showered and dressed. Once the laundry was done, I got the bags packed and the car loaded, while David started his conference call. At least we had a late (2pm) checkout, so I managed to get the laundry all done (although some of it was still a little bit damp).

Took the kids on a quick shopping trip. I love Barnes & Noble. Micah had bought me a light for my Nook as a Mother’s Day gift, but it shorted out, and the store was able to just swap it for me. Yeah. Also had to pick up some power strips - we do have a lot of electrical items with us!

Picked up David, and drove down to San Mateo. Sofia fell asleep on the way down. We had dinner plans at 5pm, but the kids were hungry, so we had a little snack at 4pm first. And that’s when I noticed that Sofia’s head was a bit warm, and she was complaining about her tummy.

Ugh. That’s what we needed, a sick kid on the airplane. Dinner at the sushi restaurant was lovely, with David’s friend from his Johnson & Johnson days (early 90s) and her hubby, but Sofia fell asleep on my lap, and Micah fell asleep on Sofia’s lap! Ugh. And Micah started complaining about his belly too.

Ok. Off to the airport. Lots of bathroom stops. At least my cousin Bruce needed us to leave the car at the airport instead of back up at the hotel. In the parking garage, we grabbed a few extra changes of clothing, and the thermometer - Sofia was just starting to pop a bit of a temp. By the time we got in the check-in line for Air New Zealand, Sam and David were complaining about their tummies too. And the check-in took over an hour, although at least it was smooth.

Off to the terminal, and I went foraging for Pepto Bismal. Got some into her; the boys were starting to feel better, and all refused the Pepto. Sofia fell asleep in her wheelchair while we waited to board. Boarding was late, because the crew was late to arrive. But we got on easily, second family to load. David managed to get switched to the seat in front of me (instead of 10 rows ahead!), and we had the 4 center seats together. Sofia stayed asleep when I put her in her seat.

The flight was actually really easy. We each had our video screens with tons of movies to choose from. I watched “The Hunger Games” while eating dinner (kids and I had kosher meals, David takes his chances with regular). Sofia did not wake for dinner, and slept a good solid 10 hours. She needed it. She was much much better when she woke up.

In the “morning” I watched an Anne Hathaway movie, “One Day”, which was really lovely and sad, and I can’t get it out of my mind. Also started watching “The Debt”, about a Mossad operation to capture a Nazi war criminal. Unfortunately, the flight ended before the movie ended, so I hope it’ll still be available on the way home.

I did sleep at least 6 hours, with Sofia leaning on my arm. It wasn’t too bad. All in all, it seemed like a much shorter trip than the 12 hours it really took. We did get in about an hour late, at 6:30 am. The wheelchair was supposed to be at the aircraft door but got sent to baggage instead, so we got to ride on one of the carts, which was fun. And since we were the last ones off the plane, the line at immigration was very easy.

Got all the luggage, got Sofia’s clothing changed, and headed into the main terminal. Our ride to the campervan station wouldn’t come until after 8am, so we had a small bite of breakfast and waited around for 45 minutes.

Oh, did I mention that Micah, who had been absolutely fine on most of the trip, turned into a raging demon of a 10 year old about 20 minutes before we landed, and stayed that way until lunchtime? ARGH! Hugh pain in the butt, arguing constantly. But he got better after serious food. He’s still gonna be a toughie.

 Learned all about the care and maintenance of the camper van, while Sofia played in the toy room and Micah watched the Olympics in the waiting room. Unpacked all the bags so we could put the suitcases away. Finally got out of there around 9:30, and went straight to the grocery store. Of course Micah wanted to come in with me, so that took a while.

David had some difficulty getting used to driving this beast. It’s BIG, and everything is on the opposite side from what he is used to. After the grocery store, which was near the airport, we went to the Kosher store at the (downtown) Auckland Hebrew Center. Driving in the city center was REALLY a challenge! But we made it, and even parked on a hill, facing up.

Had a yummy dairy meal - bagels and tuna for the boys, potato latke for Sofia, noodle latke and grape leaves for David, and a stuffed potato for me. Then bought meat for the week (Grey’s Deli sells the frozen meat in the grocery section but serves only dairy).

Then we were off to our first campsite, the Miranda Holiday Park in Thames, on the Coramandel Peninsula. Took just under 2 hours, and we are in the middle of nowhere! There are Hot Springs here; I think I’ll take a dip in the hot springs pool later, but I really really wanted a shower first.

David is napping now (it’s 4:45pm) while Sam writes thank you notes, Sofia watches a movie on her video machine, and Micah watches a different movie on Sam’s iPad. I have to figure out what to make them for dinner. I don’t think I was fully awake when I went shopping.

Still trying to map out the rest of our trip. We just priced the ferry between the North Island and the South Island, and round trip would be over $800. So now David has to wrap his head around skipping the South Island, which is where he really wanted to go. But if we skip it, we don’t have to do as much driving between places, and could actually stop and see more.

 It’s winter here, so everyone is wearing sweaters and light coats. I spent most of the day in a tank top ;) but now I think I’ll need my sweatshirt if I go outside. The campground has a public-use kitchen, so I’ll cook there instead of messing up the van. We’re still settling in, and trying to take it easy. At least most of the tummy aches have calmed down now!



After I finished the last journal entry, I made dinner, which tonight was simply noodles and cheese (rice noodles for Sofia). I cooked in the public kitchen, with Sofia for company. After dinner, I went back to the kitchen to wash our dishes, and when I got back to the camper van, Micah was sound asleep. Sofia wanted to get ready to sleep also, although it took her a little while to actually settle down. Right now, Sam has the bed up above the driving cabin, Micah has the bed where the passenger seat usually is, and David, Sofia and I are sharing the very large bed in the back, where the table usually is.

After I got Sofia to sleep, David, Sam and I went for a dip in the Hot Spring Pool. Very nifty. The temperature is not bad: feels like mid-50s, but wet and occasionally rainy. Very damp ground. Cloudy sky. But if this is the middle of winter, I’ll take it. It feels more like April at home!

This morning, while we were unpacking the suitcases, Sam was a total nutcase. He had it set in his mind since we booked this trip that he wanted to sleep in the bed up above the driver cabin. So he started putting all his stuff up there, but he was hogging a lot of the cabinet space. He nearly short-circuited when I told him to stop and told him that the pillows and blankets needed to “live” up on his bed when we were not using them.

He’s such a mix of mature and baby still. He gets so focused on some things, and completely ignores others. It’s fascinating (except when it’s horribly annoying).

 Micah, as I mentioned, keeps getting into arguing jags. He just cannot stop arguing, about everything. He’s annoyed because the power cord for his Nintendo is not working, so now the battery is nearly dead and he cannot recharge. He’s annoyed because he doesn’t have anyone to play with (except when he plays with his siblings). He’s annoyed because we are not interested in his Nintendo games. It’s tough to be a 10 year old boy, I guess.

Sofia seems to be having a blast. Sometimes, especially when she is tired, she says “Home”, but she’s usually happy with whatever location is our temporary home that day. She is talking so much all the time. It’s wonderful (when it’s not annoying!).

Oh, another cool thing: when we went to Grey’s Deli, the kosher deli at the Auckland Hebrew Center, we had a conversation with the counter guy. Turns out he attended the Reali School in Haifa, which is MWJDS’s sister school!

Other stuff: the ride out here to the camp ground was beautiful (when I wasn’t terrified that David was going to go too far off the edge of the road!). I don’t believe I have ever seen so many sheep and cows out grazing. And at one point, we saw a long line of “cows coming home” - literally, the cows were walking along the path to go back to the barn. And of course there was a gentleman waiting at the gate for the cows to come home!

It’s 8pm, everyone is asleep already, and it’s raining again. Hopefully we will get our Internet access worked out tomorrow morning so I can post this. Not sure what tomorrow’s plans will be, but we have to check out of the camp ground by 10am. It’s a starting point.

Friday August 3 

Wow, 4:30 am came quickly! And that’s when Micah and Sofia woke up. Still dark outside. They snuggled in bed and watched a video on something (not sure if it was the portable player or the iPad).

We all woke up for real a little after 7am. Gorgeous day - not as overcast (although now, at 12:44, the clouds are coming back in), sunny, blue sky. We ate breakfast and got dressed and packed up. Check out time at the campground 10am. Headed East to Thames. Really cool ride. I’ll post pictures tomorrow, I promise.

First stop was the Visitor’s Center, to get an idea of what the heck we should do. Then lunch, and now we are at the Thames Public Library, where the WiFi is free. Micah and Sofia are reading books in the children’s section while the rest of us check in.

Heading to an old mine today, then eventually to Matamata. Tomorrow we will take the Hobbittown tour - Matamata was where they filed the Shire parts of the Lord of the Rings movies.