Friday Night (Southern) Lights.

When my two youngest boys, Ryan and Matt, signed up for ‘summer sports’ teams at Bayfield High School at the beginning of the academic year in January, I was proud of their choices.  Matt, who is a year nine (or freshman) in the high school signed up for softball (they don’t have hardball baseball here) and volleyball.  He’d never played volleyball, ever.  Ryan signed up for water polo, futsol (indoor soccer on a basketball sized court) and track.  Ryan never liked soccer back in the US, and after one or two seasons at the tender age of 6 or 7, he knew he’d had enough.  And yet, here he was,  giving it another go.  Must be something in the water here.   Back in the US I work at the hospital every other weekend, which makes attending sports games challenging.  My job here, on the other hand,  is much more flexible, and I can attend the overwhelming majority of the boys’ games.

I went to Ryan’s first water polo game about six weeks ago and watched the kids struggle.  Most had never played water polo before.  At one point, I thought I was going to have to revive my life saving skills and jump in to help one of our players who was having trouble just swimming to the other side of the pool.  I looked around for the coach, and saw the team had a manager, but no coach.  Gulp.  What else could I do?  At the end of the game (we lost by many goals) I took a deep breath and introduced myself and asked the manager if she thought the team might like a little help.  You’re hired, she said.  Now, I was all in.  I also asked Matt if he would consider trying out some water polo to help the team; he’d never played before, but said, “Sure, why not?”

Water polo season ended with last night’s game, and this post, whilst (how about that for a Kiwi word?) seemingly about sports, is as much about what life  is like for an American family living in Dunedin.

Bayfield High School is one of the few co-ed school in Dunedin.  The more prominent high schools, such Otago Boys, Otago Girls and John McGlashan are single sex schools.  There is about an equal mix of boys and girls on our water polo team, and most of them had little prior experience with water polo.  Our smaller players don’t even stretch to 5 feet tall.  I’m not sure if even our strongest swimmer could swim 50 yards of freestyle in under 30 seconds.  I was the ‘coach’ at the next week’s game, and tried to help as best I could, and even though there was some improvement from the prior week, I turned to the manager and commented, “I think we are going to need some practices….”  Most of the sports teams for the high school don’t practice much, and some not at all.  Our manager, Mrs. Alibone (who is also the boys’ science teacher)  arranged some pool time at Otago Boys (Bayfield doesn’t have a pool, Otago Boys High School has it’s own indoor pool).  After the first practice, I overheard one of the kids say, “I can’t believe it!  We practice for a whole hour!”  Yes, many of the sports teams, when they do practice only do so for 20 to 30 minutes.  I saw, in our first practice, we were going to need a little more swimming strength, so I offered optional swim workouts one or two evenings a week at the local community pool.

What was really interesting was with each practice, someone new would show up.  “Hey.”  They would say.  “I heard this is fun, thought I’d give it a try.”  Sure, have a go….everyone is welcome.  Day by day we got a little better.  Yet,  even at the end of the season there are a few players who still couldn’t quite master an egg beater kick, but it didn’t stop them…

Last week the championship games began.  I told the team if we won our first round, I’d get in the water with them for the next practice.  We won, and yes, thirty-five years after my last water polo practice in college, I got in the water and practiced with the kids this week.  I didn’t drown, which was good since I was the only doctor there.

Yesterday was the championship game, against Logan Park High School. We have never beaten them, and we lost to them 6-0 in the beginning of the season.  We had our work cut out for us.  We were tense.  Ryan told me he couldn’t even eat his lunch at school, he was so nervous.   It was a very hard fought game, and it was 1-1 at half-time.  Our players sensed we had a chance to win, and really stepped it up in the second half.  The other team had one really superb player on their team, but each time he would break away and get the ball, two of our players would be all over him.  He was near the goal several times with the ball, and our goalie rushed out and stole the ball from him.  We shut them out in the second half, and won the game 3-1.

 

We then rushed down to the Edgar Center (the large indoor sports area in Dunedin) for Matt’s volleyball game.  They also won, beating Otago Boys in the third (and deciding) game.

I still had some work to do at the hospital, so after Matt’s volleyball game we drove the boys back home and got them dinner, and then Deb and I headed back to the hospital.  After we finished the work we had a nice relaxing ‘date night’ dinner at a restaurant called Table Seven just a block from the hospital.  It’s a great little place, on the first floor (for the US, second floor) overlooking George Street (which is fun to do, on a Friday night).  It was a great time for Deb and I to talk about the day, the week, and indeed our whole time here so far.

We sat there at the big picture window sipping Central Otago Pinot while awaiting our first course of beetroot and feta salad.  I talked about how much fun it was to go to the very small Balclutha hospital each week.  It’s about sixty miles Southwest of Dunedin, but the scenery makes the drive pass by quickly.

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We continue to marvel at the scenery here in Nz.  A couple of weeks ago we headed into Central Otago.  Matt and I had plans to drift fish the Clutha River while Ryan and Deb cycled the Central Rail Trail (a 65km leg, this time).  We awoke in Cromwell, where we had spent the night in this great little Motel, to a sunrise rainbow.

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And then later that day Matt and I hooked into a few fish….

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The fall colours were beginning to show, and the clear water of the Clutha provided a great contrast to the greens, yellows and browns.

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Even the drive to work in the morning is often spectacular, like this sunrise we captured last week.

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Deb and I  both remarked how the people here seem to reflect the beauty of the surrounding nature.  Everyone is so genuine, so nice, so helpful.  They are proud, and rightly so, of their country.

But like most parents, a good part of the conversation was dominated by talking about our children.  Ryan wants to stay here, period.  Even Matt is warming to life here, no small feat for a 13 year old.  We love how the boys are trying new sports, new languages (Matt is learning some German), and making new friends.  It wasn’t long before our conversation turned back to that day’s water polo game.  The boys played their hearts out, and saw some real success.  They saw, too, that a little extra effort goes a long way (that’s always a good one, if you’re a parent).  It was a proud moment to have all the kids gathered up by sports photographer for the championship photo.  Here it is, the Bayfield High School Water Polo Team.

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It’s almost impossible to capture the essence of life in Dunedin without being here.  I could not have envisioned working as a doctor AND going to my sons’ water polo games…..let alone coaching the team.  Yet, here I am, doing all that.  Deb and I are old enough to understand how fortunate we are to live this dream.  It’s  a priceless experience.

Thanks for following,

Cheers

 

 

 

 

 

A Weekend in Wanaka

It is autumn.  Though it is still light at 8pm, the sun has set half an hour before, and if you wake before seven o’clock in the morning night still rules the sky.  We have sensed winter closing in, and with that, fewer opportunities for outdoor pursuits.  Our weekends have become a frenzy of ‘let’s get there now, before it’s too late’.  Not that there won’t be beauty in the winter, but being California folks we like to see places while wearing shorts.  It’s just who we are.

So last weekend (I’m only a week behind in the blog!) we headed out to Wanaka after Ryan’s and Matt’s water polo game.  If you’ve ever been to Wanaka, you won’t need me to recount its beauty.  If you’ve never been there, I’ll do my best to describe what a magical place in the world this is.

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We arrived in Wanaka just after dark and the lake reflected the glowing evening sky.    If you have ever visiting Lake Tahoe, on the California/Nevada boarder, you know the setting.  A big, beautiful blue lake, surrounded by gorgeous mountain peaks.  Wanaka is all that, though it’s like going back in time and visiting Lake Tahoe 50 years ago.

On our first morning we rented kayaks and paddled out to Ruby Island.  Matt preferred to stay in he kayak (as you can see) and paddle around the island, while Deb, Ryan and I hike around the small little island.  We found a little wild apple tree, and munched on some apples during our mini-hike.  Yum.

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Deb and Ryan checked their stomachs mid hike to see who was the most skinny (really…after eating an apple?).

Later that afternoon we went to ‘Have a Shot'; a place out by the airport with a golf range (the sheep mow the grass), and indoor and outdoor shooting ranges.  We thought we’d give it a try.

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The boys were amazing!  But what was really amazing was when we went back the next day, Deb tried it.  She said, “Oh, I”ll be terrible at this.  I’ve never shot a gun before.  I’m too nervous to even shoot!”  The guns were 22 caliber rifles, and the targets were 20 meters away.  Deb got 23 bullseyes out of 25 shots, putting all of us to shame, and winning the admiration of the staff, who were seriously considering whether she was a secret agent with the FBI.

But I got ahead of myself.  Sunday morning (before Agent Debra had her chance at the range) we went for a hike into the Rob Roy Valley.  The views there were simply some of the most stunning I have ever seen (and I’ve done a lot of hiking).  I won’t try to describe what I saw…I’ll just show you.

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The Matakitaki River runs along the floor of the valley, with towering mountain peaks on either side.  Beautiful.  Our hike was up through another valley to a glacier.

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While we were there, the glacier calved; that was an incredible sound, and incredible site!  We were happy to be on the other side of the valley, as well.

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The runoff from the glacier turns the stream a turquoise color, which almost makes it seem like someone came along and colored the water.  We also passed a waterfall, and there was a rainbow in the water fall.

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After we got home that afternoon, we went up the winery along the shores of the lake, Rippon winery (for a little wine tasting, to go with our hike).  That’s something you don’t find at Lake Tahoe…a vineyard alongside the lake (hey, somebody get on that!).

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You can see Ruby island just offshore…

On our final day of this three day weekend, we went into Arrowtown, just outside of Queenstown.  It is a very quaint little town with cute shops and great food.  It was truly an autumn day.

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And then, on the way home we passed the 45th parallel,

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and stopped in Aurum Winery to pick up some more of their very tasty olive oil (some of the Souther- most olive groves in the world) and a few bottles of the wine, too.

We managed a sunset that night at home,

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And the next morning, as Deb and I were driving into work, there was full moon setting before the sun came up.

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Deb and I have relished every minute of our time here.  New Zealand is a special place, to be sure.  There is beauty around every corner.  We certainly feel fortunate to be here, and to have the time to enjoy this wonderful country.  And while I  can show you pictures of the beauty, I cannot as easily show you the New Zealanders, who make living here such a delight.  They are some of the most heart warming, friendly people in the world.  When the boys are I are jogging, everyone we pass smiles.  Deb and I have frequently find ourselves commenting, after a conversation with one or the other locals, “They are just so genuine, and so nice!”

Hope you enjoy what we’ve shared,

Cheers,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your sons jumped off a bridge, would you?

You’ve all been there.  Your child (or you, perhaps) did something of questionable judgement, and the rationale for the action was “Well, everyone else was doing it!”  Then you say, or hear, those words, “So, if they jumped off a bridge, would you?”  (You’re SUPPOSED to say NO, by the way).

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So, there we were just 10 minutes outside Queenstown, on a platform about 100 meters above a river.  We had decided to ‘do’ the ‘The Canyon Swing”, which is a 60 meter free fall straight down, and then strapped in a full body harness you swing another 200 meters to the other side of the canyon.  And, if all went well, the nice young men at the top would hoist you back up to the platform.

This was (I’m sure you’ll be surprised) my idea, and the boys were all for it.  Debra, having two of those pesky ‘X’ chromosomes which actually cause you to sensibly answer questions like, “What could go wrong?” chose to sit this one out.  Smart girl.  I was hoping to go first, but Matt beat us all to the punch when they asked for volunteers.  Here, in the multishot of the jump, you can see him calmly smiling, suspended 100 meters above the canyon floor.  I can tell you, I would not look so relaxed.  In this particular ‘jump’, you are suspended above the canyon, and the nice young men ‘cut the cord’ when you’re least suspecting it.  Now, doesn’t that sound fun?  Matt was all smiles, and actually did the jump twice.

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Ryan went next.  He, too, make it look smooth and easy.  For his second jump, he just simply leaned backward and fell into the canyon.  Deb, watching from the platform above, just about had a heart attack.  Oh, to be young, do a jump like that, and come up and say, “Can I do that again?”

I went last.  I did feel safe, having seen Ryan and Matt survive their jumps.  There were also three guys, each of whom did his own separate safety check before they let me near the edge of the platform.  I had opted for the ‘pin drop’ jump, where you placed your hands behind you, interlock your hands, and keep them that way for the whole jump.  I very nervously made my way to the edge of the platform.  Never mind I knew I was strapped in, just inching towards the edge of the platform was nerve racking.  I stood there on the edge of the platform and looked over the edge. Big mistake…for two reasons.  First, of course, it was terrifying to look down.  Second, the young men up on the platform like to have a little fun, so the minute I wasn’t watching them, they pushed me towards the edge (all the while holding on to me so I didn’t actually go off the platform).  Boy, that was funny! (for them).  When I got the OK to jump, my feet suddenly became lead weights.  I will be honest…jumping off the platform was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done.  Every brain cell in my body (all three of them) was yelling “Don’t jump!”.  But, my kids had jumped, and everyone was watching me.  I couldn’t chicken out.

 

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Here is what it’s like to free fall 60 meters.  First, it’s not like the cartoons you watch.  You don’t, as you jump up and off the platform, hang there suspended for a moment before gently beginning your descent.  The very second you jump off the platform, gravity grabs you by both ankles and yanks you downward, screaming towards the canyon floor.  You don’t have time to savor a moment of being weightless, or watch birds on your way down.  You just hope the harness and cables hold.  They did, of course, since here I am writing about it.  Maybe if I did a second (or third, or fourth?) jump time would slow down and I could more fully ‘experience’ the fall.  Maybe…but one jump that day was enough.

All that being said, we do plan to go back there and do it again…(that’s the Y chromosome talking).

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, and as you can see, we took advantage of that fact.  We all had the weekend off, and the weather was still good, so  after finishing work on Friday, we drove just three and 1/2 hours to adventure town, Nz.  We stayed in a wonderful apartment on the lake, with a beautiful lake view.  It was site to wake up to Saturday morning.  No moss growing under our feet, though, so Saturday we were off to jet boat the Dart River….where fashion is king!

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The jet boat is a pretty common site on these rivers in Nz because they can travel in water as shallow as 4 inches deep.  We first took a bus from Queenstown to Glenorchy, a very small town on the banks of the Dart River.  Though small, Glenorchy is famous because of the all the movies which have been filmed in that area (yes, some Lord of the Rings, but many others as well).  Interestingly, even the mountains depicted on the bottle of Coors Beer used to be the mountains around Glenorchy (until the CEO of Coors Beer came to Nz, and was told this story, and went and checked it out for himself….and it was true….so he changed the label a bit).  The ‘boat’ seats about 10 people, but in reality it is just a thin shell of metal housing an 800 horsepower engine.  It’s a blast.  You literally fly up the river at about 45 mph.  The scenery was spectular!

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There was just one breathtaking vista after another.  We got out of the boat about 30 miles upstream, and went for a little walk in the forest.  There was some remaining set material from the the Hobbit movies, and my how Ryan has slimmed down.

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You would like to think we would want to relax after this, but no.  We went straight from the jet boat ride to the gondola.  What an amazing view of the Queenstown area from this vantage point…

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Once at the top of the mountain, you can ‘land luge’ it a bit.  It was so fun!

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I think we went on the luges about 10 times.   It was blast.

What a paradox New Zealand has been.  On the one hand, I’ve had so much more time for my family here.  Quality of life is important to New Zealanders, and despite my full time job, I’ve been home for every dinner, been to the majority of my kids’ sports games and even have time to be the water polo coach for the high school water polo team.  All that, and I have time to reflect on how fortunate I am to have this time.  And then, on the other hand, is the no-holds-barred, petal-to-the-metal adventures we’ve had (almost every weekend).  We are indeed, fortunate to be able to live here and enjoy the bounties of New Zealand.  This Queenstown trip was two weeks ago, and we’ve just returned from a (three day) weekend in Wanaka….which of course will be my next post.

Enjoy,

Cheers

 

 

We ain’t got no stinkin bananas!

Here’s the deal.  We have a normal size (for New Zealand) refrigerator.  We have two teenage boys, who consume on average 8 to 10,000 calories a day.  Our day basically revolves around keeping the boys fed.  For breakfast, Deb stands at the refrigerator and passes me food (eggs, English muffins, crumpets, bacon) and I cook it as fast as I can, and we just hope the boys get full by the time the refrigerator is empty.  Then, it’s off to work at the hospital, which is strategically placed across the street from the New World grocery store.  We buy as much food as our Subaru Legacy will hold, come home and organize the assembly line that is called ‘dinner’ in some homes.  We can usually buy enough food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, but that’s it.  For lunches, each boy brings a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam and they makes their own sandwiches.

It was a surprise this week, then, when we couldn’t find bananas at the store.  We asked the nice young man in the produce department, “Hey, where are your bananas?”  Thankfully, he knew we meant the fruit.  He was surprised, he said, we hadn’t heard about the shortage.  What shortage?  We wondered.  A boat from  the Philippines had broken down, he said, and no one in Southern New Zealand had bananas.  No one.  Not a single store.  They didn’t expect any for about week, until they could get some from Ecuador.  Oh, that’s right, we live on an island.  And you don’t need to remind us it’s not a tropical island.  Well, it’s apple season.

Last Friday our good friend Ryan Hubbard and his brother Jeff came to visit us.  They had been in New Zealand for about a week, having lots of fun around Queenstown and the West Coast.  It was great to see them, and we enjoyed a nice dinner on Friday night with a typical beautiful evening view.

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We started a fire in our outdoor fireplace and planned to roast marshmallows after dinner, but in typical fashion it began to rain just as it got dark.  So, we enjoyed a little bit of the fire in rain, roasted a few marshmallows in between rain drops, and planned our outing for Saturday.  We decided to go to Nugget Point on the Southern Coast (they hadn’t spend much time on the coast).

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It doesn’t take too much imagination to see why this is called Nugget point.  It was a great afternoon, and though you can’t see them, there are dozens of seals on the rocks below (many with little pups).

On the drive along the coast, we spotted a yellow-eyed penguin (it’s very unusual to see them on the shore in the daytime), and had to stop and say hello.

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He was a cute little guy….hopefully not lost, but he didn’t seem phased at all by us taking pictures of him.  My son Ryan said this is how celebrities must feel, with people stopping and taking pictures of them wherever they go…

We were sad to say goodbye to Ryan and Jeff later that day, but they had a plane to catch the next day.  Our Sunday was a different story.  Our Ryan had a school debate practice, so he stayed home while Deb, Matt and I headed into Central Otago.  Our plan was to go to Naseby, where there is a curling rink.  But, as we left Dunedin the weather improved dramatically (that happens a lot), and we stopped in Middlemarch and inquired about renting bikes for the Central Rail Trail.  Sure, they said, so since was a clear blue sky 70 degree (25C) day- we don’t get many of those here- we switched gears and decided to go bike riding. (Did you catch the pun?).  Deb hadn’t brought any shorts, so she picked some flashy new ones at the bike store.

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The van took us up 42km up the road to the Central Rail Trail, and then the plan was we would bike back to the store.  Matt wasn’t initially as excited about the (long) bike ride, so we bribed him with a “V”, the local energy drink.  Here are the before and after pictures.

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He was faster than us the whole way!

It was a beautiful ride.  For the first 15km we followed Taeri River in a canyon, and it was magnificent.

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The Central Rail Trail is a 150km track that used to be a rail line, but after the railroad went broke, they decided to put dirt on the tracks and convert the rail into a biking track.  It’s fantastic.  No cars, incredible scenery- everything you want in a bike ride.  Along the way are cute little stopping places, like in the town of Hyde (where there is always lots of drinks and treats to help sustain you for the ride).

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Sometimes they get the signs wrong, but you can’t be real picky about this sort of thing.

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It was a terrific day.  We headed back to Dunedin just before dinner time (which in our house is anywhere between 1pm and 10pm).  Later that evening the hills across the bay were stunning as the fog rolled in.

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We certainly made the most of that weekend.  This week it is back to school, work, volleyball, softball, futsol, running and water polo.  Gee, I wonder why they eat so much?

Next weekend, if all goes well, we are off to Queenstown.

Cheers,

 

 

 

 

 

Technically still summer……

Welcome back to Dunedin!

I was intrigued to hear that people here consider March 1st to be the start of autumn.  And then I experienced the first of March…and the second….and the third…..and the fourth.   Now I get it.  Yes, technically it is still summer, but you would never know that by the weather we’ve had.  By the Bay Area of California standards’ this last weekend would have been considered a horrific (I can hear the Channel 7 weatherman now!  “Oh my, God, John, this is the worst storm in a decade!”) winter storm.  Four straight days of rain and gusting winds to 50 miles per hour.  Still the great thing about New Zealand is someone, somewhere, had it worse.  This time it was (sadly…because they don’t need any more problems) Christchurch, with 80 miles an hour winds and record rain, and what was described (by the newscasters) as a ONE in a HUNDRED year event.  Even that was a funny story, because yesterday at this time, the flooding was described as a ONE in TWENTY-FIVE year event, then late last night-as the flooding worsened-they changed their estimation to a ONE in a FIFTY year event, and the breaking news this morning was the flooding was now described as a ONE in a HUNDRED year event.  Not much solace if you’re living through it, except, I suppose, to say you were there, in the Flood of ’14.

The weather has altered our lifestyle a bit.

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We’ve played a lot of Bananagrams, cards and Monopoly.  These are, obviously, Ryan’s words above (I don’t even know what ‘praxis’ means).  And don’t tell him it’s ‘axe’ not ‘ax’.

But one thing we’ve learned in New Zealand is you can’t let the weather dictate your life.  So, that meant going fishing in the Mataura River on Sunday (lots of rain, not lots of fish), and doing some beach walking near our house in between weather fronts.  The great thing, though, is you never know what you’ll find.  On Saturday, we were just walking along a jetty, and practically stumbled upon this little sleeping cutie.

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He awoke for a minute as we passed him, but despite the fact we were only about five feet from him he could have cared less that we were there.  We saw four more seals along the jetty, all in various states of resting….but mostly asleep.  Ah…..the life of a seal.  A little farther down the jetty was a whole of Eastern Terns.

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And as we walked by, a number of them took flight.  They were very orderly, each of them taking their…ummm…turn.

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After school on Monday, Matt and I went out to the jetty and did a little fishing.  Here’s what we didn’t catch.

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It was pretty cool.  The ship had a huge video screen on the top deck, and as the ship passed we could actually watch the movie that was being played.

The last two weeks have been busy ones for all of us.  The boys are quite busy with after school sports; Ryan is now on the water polo team, the futsol team and track team and the debate team (like he needs to develop any more skill in debating……we all don’t stand a chance…)   Matt is on the school volleyball and softball teams and also playing on a club softball team.  On many days, I feel as much a taxi driver as a doctor.  There is a rumor I will be coaching the water polo team, which sounds fun.  Hope I can bring the whistle home……  Each of the boys have field trips coming up.  Ryan’s is a day trip to the tide pools, and he came home the other day admiring the honesty of his science teacher, who said, “Look, it’s not like you all are getting Ph.D.’s in biology, so it’s really like a picnic on the beach!”.  Next week Matt has an overnight trip to Quarantine Island.  I’ve already signed the permission slip…and really I am adopting the ‘hear no evil’ philosophy on why they call it ‘Quarantine’ Island.  I’ll let you know how that goes…

That’s all for today, from sunny Dunedin!

Cheers,

 

 

 

And so what’s life like, in Dunedin?

My last post ended with the finish of our vacation.  That was about one month ago, and since then our boys have started school, our Dunedin summer finally arrived (mid-January), and now we are noticing leaves beginning to fall from the trees.  That can’t mean Autumn is near, I hope.  We are beginning to get into a routine, though, with school and work, and I thought it would be nice to give you a taste of that routine.

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The boys don’t have to think very hard about what to wear to school.  They smiled for the camera, but for the record they are not fans of wearing uniforms.  They have lots of company, from what they tell me no one at school likes to wear uniforms.  On some days, it’s a ‘mufty’ day, and they can wear regular clothes…but those days are few and far between.  Each morning, the boys walk down the hill from our house and catch the bus to school (their first experiences taking a bus to and from school).  Both boys have signed up for sports; Ryan is playing futsol (like soccer) and track; Matt is playing volleyball and softball.   The teachers are exceptionally nice, the boys tell me, and school, overall is much less rigorous than it is in the US.  There is much, much less homework.  The high school begins at level 9 and goes to level 13.   Matt is in the first year of high school, in level 9, and Ryan tested the waters of level 11, but didn’t feels all that stimulated by his courses, and this week moved up to level 12.  He’s taking physics, chemistry, biology, history, math and English, and I don’t think we’ll hear much more about how the courses here are so easy…..

On the weekends where I’m on call, we stay mostly local, but on the weekends when I’m off work, we travel.   On one of our first free weekends we went South to the Catlins National park and did some great hikes (shorts one) with great waterfall views.

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The boys enjoyed the forests, and we spotted several brown trout in the river below (but alas, hadn’t brought our fly rods).

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These are two different falls (McCellen and Purakanui) we enjoyed that day.  That day we also stopped for lunch at an eclectic little restaurant (run by an ex-pat Californian), called the Whistling Frog Cafe.

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Later on that day we went to Curio Bay, which is just a a few km from the Southernmost point of the South Island.  It is a beautiful bay, famous for it’s soft breaks for surfing and its resident pod of Hector’s dolphins.  We enjoyed both of those; Matt and I body surfed, which was awesome, and as you can see, some of the dolphins even caught the same waves as Matt.

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It was truly one of the great experiences of a lifetime.  As the sun began to set, we moved just across the bay to where the rare Yellow Eyed Penguins return to their nests at dusk.

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We watched about 5 or six of the penguins come in from the open ocean, and then meander their way to the nests another 100 yards up from the shore.  Apparently they often have to cool off for up to an hour in the cool air after leaving the water, since they work so hard while out in the ocean to catch fish for their little ones at the nest.  I have gone swimming many times in the oceans around the Southland; never once have I felt the need to ‘cool off’ after getting our of the water.

Curio Bay is about a three hour drive from our house, and after the sun set, and we headed home.  We drove for almost two straight hours before we saw another car.  That’s an example how, even in the peak of summer, there just aren’t many people here.

Last weekend was another of the ‘free’ weekends, so we decided to see Doubtful Sound.  There are two ‘Sounds’  that tourists visit, Milford and Doubtful, with Milford being the much more popular one (you can drive to it, whereas the trek to Doubtful is much more difficult).  We had arranged to spend the night on a 62 foot boat, ‘The Southern Secret’, with 8 other people.  After I finished work on Friday, we drove out to Te Anau, about a 3 hour drive West.  From there, the next morning, we took a boat across the lake (a 45 minute ride across a very big lake), to a waiting van, and then took another 45 minute ride in the van over a small mountain into the end of Doubtful Sound, called Deep Cove.  There, we boarded the Southern Secret about noon, and began our tour of the massive Doubtful Sound (so called, because when Captain Cook visited it, he was doubtful he could sail out of it, because it was so large and he didn’t think there would be enough wind).  The beauty we of the Sound is difficult to describe and equally challenging to capture with pictures.

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Our first day on the sound was met with mist, fog, and rain.  It was spooky.

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We stopped at several places during our journey out to where the Sound begins (the Pacific) and really enjoyed the kayaking, evening though it was raining.  This is, after all, one of the wettest places in Nz, but the rain added to the majesty, since there were hundreds of waterfalls along the cliffs, which we fueled by the rainfall.  It was stunning.

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Later that day, we all got to fish, and that was a blast! We caught all sort of fish, and I even caught a 4 1/2 foot grey shark.  We ate many of the fish later that night (sashimi)…and speaking of the food, get a load of our lunch, the day we arrived on the boat…

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They called them creys here, but it’s lobster to us…all you can eat!

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Yes, even Debra went fishing and even Debra caught fish.  And, did you see her smiling while fishing in the rain?  Nothing short of amazing- she’s the full Kiwi now. Just last night she said he felt to urge to go shear some sheep.

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It was an amazing trip, and we were very, very sad to leave the boat.  We would go there again in a heartbeat.

Last week, during the middle of the week, the sea vessel, ‘Steve Irwin’ came into Dunedin for repairs, so Deb and the boys checked it out…

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They were pretty stoked.

Ok, I guess this doesn’t make it seem like normal everyday life is much different than our vacation….but it is.  The boys do have homework (I have seen them do it); they do dress up in their uniforms each morning, and the hospital does beckon each morning as well.  Still, at the end of the day, we have our beautiful house, beautiful sunsets, a kayak, and the outdoor fireplace.  And we finally found real marshmallows!  So, just a couple of nights ago, we stayed up late (too late) and roasted marshmallows (too many marshmallows), but it was all worth it.

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And that’s what our life has been like, for the last month…

Cheers,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the best? for last.

We arose early Monday morning in Wellington and caught the 9am Interisland Ferry back to Picton on the South Island.  Our destination that day was Kaiteriteri, virtually the last town before New Zealand’s smallest, but very popular, Abel Tasman National Park.  It was about a 3 hour drive from Picton to the house we rented, a drive made ever more difficult because of the gauntlet of wineries we had to pass by in the region of Nelson.  Ouch.  But, our perseverance in the drive was rewarded with amazing vistas of the beautiful white sand beach in the tiny village of Kaiteriteri.

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The house we stayed in was amazing.  It was set up on a hill above the beach, with panoramic views in two different direction through large sliding glass doors.

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We never wanted to go out to a restaurant while we were there; how could you top sunsets from your kitchen table every night?

On our first day there, we drove to the Anatoki salmon farm (number 35, on the top 101 Kiwis must do!).  It is a really cool idea.  They have a salmon farm, with salmon in varying stages of development, and the largest area reserved for the ‘mature’ salmon, each weighing about 1kg.  There is plenty of fresh water for the salmon as the farm is fed by a large mountain river.  You get a pole and some artificial bait and whatever you catch, you keep.  But the best part is they will hot smoke (and flavor) the fish right there, and you get to eat your salmon for lunch.  We had a blast!

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And the freshly smoked salmon was delicious (we had 4kg of fresh salmon to eat…..and we ate it all).

Just down the road from the salmon farm is a cute little zoo, and we couldn’t resist it.

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The zoo was alongside a river (the same river as the salmon farm) and it was also the site of a famous spot where a woman, for decades, had fed local freshwater eels.  We couldn’t resist that either.

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And if you want a closer look at these creatures……

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We put chopped meat on a stick, and then fed them with great care.  We also visited some freshwater springs (Te Waikoropupu Springs) which produce some of the clearest water in the world (at a constant 11.7 degress C) with recorded visibility of over 40 meters.

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The colors were simply stunning.  I searched and search the waters for trout (you can’t fish there, but that never stops me from looking), and sure enough, Debra spotted a nice brightly colored rainbow hiding amongst the weeds.  _MG_5111

 

Then, it was back to our little beach village for some more fun in the sun.

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The next (and sadly our last) day there we took a boat into Abel Tasman Park (there are no roads, so you either walk the whole park, or do what we did, take a boat part way in and walk whichever part you want to).  I’m told the Park gets over 500,000 visitors a year, and I can see why, with waters like this….

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The boat passed by some great sites, like broken apple rock.

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We asked to be dropped off about half way through the park, and then we did a great hike along the water to a lodge where we had a late lunch, and then we went and explored the beaches some more.  We didn’t want to leave.

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There was one particular beach, with long stretches of perfectly clear shallow water, and I really enjoyed just watching the boys explore this new land.

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All too soon the boat came and we headed back to our house for one last glorious dinner at our house.  The sunset cooperated, and we had picture perfect weather that evening.

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Then Thursday came, and we reluctantly loaded the car, and pointed our noses to Dunedin.  We were a bit unsure of whether we should take some of the smaller roads on our way to Christchurch, so we stopped at a gas station in town on our way out to get some ‘local’ advice.  The mature gentleman behind the counter was very nice, and so helpful.  He said, “Oh, sure, I’d recommend the smaller roads.”  He said, as he sized up Deb and I.  “You two look young, like you could handle it.  I mean, I wouldn’t take those roads myself now, but heck, if you find yourself getting sick, just pull over and enjoy the views!”  He said with enthusiasm.  “And,”  He said, as he gazed out the window at our car, “you’ve got one of the SU-BAR-U’s, so you’re car is likely to make it through the mountains.”   We thanked him profusely for his advice, and then, and we drove away hoped he wasn’t looking as we took the exact opposite road from the one he recommended.

So, what part of this two week holiday was our favorite?  I suspect you’d get a different answer from each of us.  Abel Tasman Park is amazing, and we could have easily spent an entire week there.  So, too, with the Marlborough Sounds, Kiakoura and any of the tours through the wine country.

For now, though, we’ll revel in the memories of a great trip since it’s back to the working world.  Well, until this weekend…..when we are off to Doubtful Sound.

Cheers,