A Winter Walk Through the Park

Pakowhai Regional Park ginkgo tree
Pakowhai Regional Park ginkgo tree

Four days after winter arrived, we finally went for a walk in a park near Hastings. We’d passed by it many times before, but the yellow ginkgo trees caught my eye and I had my camera with me. I declared we would be going there on our way back home (without any rebuttal from the driver). Pakowhai Regional Park

Pakowhai (pronounced POK-o-fie) Regional Park was clearly a dog park. People there (of which there were many) either had a dog or a baby. This is one park where dogs are allowed to run off their leads. Considering how crowded it was with children, I could only imagine this happening in the States. There were a couple of pit bulls running loose but I wasn’t concerned. They don’t have the bad reputation here that they do back home. Everyone seemed to be happy, including the friendly dogs who came up for a pat.

Pakowhai Regional Park

I immediately went the opposite direction of everyone and headed for the trees while the sun was still out. Unbelievably beautiful, it was hard to take my eyes off of them. It made me think about Pollard Park in Blenheim. It wasn’t quite the caliber of that one, but it did have some typical New Zealand scenes.

Pakowhai Regional Park

Large, mature trees that are perfectly shaped and super green grass that contrasts with fallen leaves. A mix of evergreens and large clumps of flax with a stream or river running through it, is always clear and cold. It’s nature’s eye candy and just makes you feel good to take it all in.

pakowhai regional park

Leggy pine trees lost a few members, but I liked that they made use of the stumps. One tree had been uprooted from the recent heavy rains we had.

pakowhai regional parkpakowhai regional park

pakowhai regional park

We walked back toward the parking lot and I was surprised to find a gathering of large cabbage trees. One had been cut down and the heart shaped trunk caught my eye.

pakowhai regional park

Some beautiful VERY white gum (eucalyptus) trees appeared around the bend, looking like the skin on an animal.

pakowhai regional park

On the way out to Hastings, an apple orchard caught my eye as we were coming off a bridge. It was high enough to see over them so I said we had to pull over before getting to the bridge so I could walk up there and take a picture. This is a big fruit town, so most of the orchards you see are a lot of these creepy, multiple armed apple trees. They look like they come alive at night and run around terrorizing the town.

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These seemed harmless enough and their yellow and orange leaves stretched as far as the eye could see. If you look close enough, you can make out some apples still clinging onto life. It’s not a sight I’m used to seeing, coming from wine country, but definitely worth capturing. Now, the citrus trees are ripening so we’ll have more oranges and mandarins than we can eat. I could think of worse problems to have.
fall apple orchard napier

A Little Taste of Home

We had the opportunity to take a short trip over to Hastings and finally experience some American BBQ along with a chili and chili dog eating contest. Bareknuckle BBQ was serving up some food as well which I’ve been looking forward to trying. We grabbed a fried chicken burger, a pulled pork sandwich, some waffle fries and a couple of Corona’s. $53 later, lunch was served!

Unfortunately, the pork missed the mark with me. Had it not been for the flavour of anise in it for some odd reason, it would’ve been great. Hefty American servings left me far too full and unable to finish everything.

As we waited for it to be served, a chili eating contest was going on. First the jalapenos (which I missed) and then on to the habaneros. Wow…I can’t believe anyone, much less the sole woman, would even participate in that. I’m sure they’re feelin’ the burn tonight!

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who won the contest, but here were the baskets of prizes!

Samples from the chili contest were being handed out, nice and cold…New Zealand style. Something about cold chili that doesn’t quite feel like home. First rule: chili should not be chilly.

bare knuckle bbq chilli contest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of them weren’t that bad though. We didn’t stay long enough to find out who won.

Then began the chili dog eating contest. Ughhhhh…I’m still full after watching it. The dogs were way larger than American hot dogs, no doubt about it. They set about 5 in front of them, giving them 3 minutes to see who would eat the most. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Getting ready
That’s a lotta dog
May the best man win
This poor kid was having issues with the first one

I’m feelin their pain at this point

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This was about the time the MC extended the contest by one minute
Still plenty to eat!
My man Matthew keeping control of the situation
After another couple of one minute extensions, time was coming to a close. The crowd was very sympathetic.

Comparing what’s left on the trays
The winner is announced!

Apparently, they were overly optimistic about how many dogs would be eaten. A few more trays were brought out and the vultures swooped in!

This was the first American event I’ve been to here and it was fun hearing so many familiar accents again. We had a good time and will be back for the next one!

bare knuckle bbq

 

 

 

 

Moving Mayhem

It had already been a long morning when the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Everything in the house had been packed up in the moving truck the day before,  so all that was left were a few items in the kitchen and the uncomfortable air mattress we struggled to sleep on during the night. And struggle, we did. We estimate we got 4 hours at best of “decent” sleep.

It was going to be one of those journeys you don’t want to repeat anytime soon. We were moving out of the place I called home for the past two and a half years and for him, it had been eight. He had been living in Blenheim for eleven years total. For me, it was the most stable place I’d lived in a while. I was used to packing up every few weeks or months and living out of a suitcase. It was an emotional time for both of us, going through the fixing up and TLC over the years to the actual selling and having to find the dog a new home.

We didn’t have a place to live, per se, once we left that driveway we knew so well. I held back the tears as we drove to the ferry…the same emotions I had many times over the years when I left a place. I said to myself, “Just keep it together…this isn’t over yet. Carry on one step at a time. You can cry later.”

Our day was going to consist of taking the ferry across to the North Island (something I dread doing as I usually always get sick) for at least 3 ½ hours, then driving up to Napier which would take a minimum of four hours in separate cars. The moving truck was on the same boat and I saw the driver on there who said it would take them at least six hours. He was going a different way than we were…a longer route according to Google. Fine by us, we would have time to stop for lunch and have another hour to kill before having to meet them at the storage place. The plan was for me to go straight to our AirBnB house we’d be renting indefinitely and Andy would meet the guys at the storage facility. Sometimes plans work and sometimes they don’t.

It had been raining for the past three days in Blenheim, which didn’t make loading the moving truck much fun for anyone and rain was forecast for the next few days on the North Island as well. What I didn’t realize was that this was the leftovers of the cyclone that hit Australia’s east coast a few days prior and it was huge. They were still reeling from mudslides and flooding.

The crossing was actually the most pleasant one I’d been on. Leaving first thing in the morning usually helps, but I didn’t get sick or even feel the need to. The time dragged on endlessly, akin to being on a treadmill. The rain even let up when we approached the shoreline of Wellington, where it always seems to rain no matter what day it is.

The GPS was set and we started the drive North. Once we got out of the city, it had started drizzling slightly, but that was ok. However, when we started approaching the wide open fields with no trees to break the wind, things got weird. A wind shear hit the side of the car and I almost ran off the road as we were doing 90/kmh (the speed limit was 100). I had to keep pulling the wheel to the right in order to drive straight. The wipers were coming off of the windshield and I thought they may just fly right off. I looked ahead thinking there had to be some sort of wind barrier but there was none, just bright green fields. I hoped that once we got around a bend that the wind would be to the back of us but it wasn’t. My hands were getting stiff holding onto the steering wheel in a death grip. This continued for at least 25 minutes. I thought of our moving truck and had a vision of it being tipped over along a similar stretch of road, which is not unheard of around here. I was hoping that their alternate route wasn’t as bad as ours.

Eventually we hit a town and our break came. As we approached the signs to Palmerston North and then drove east from there, a flashing sign on the side of the road said that it was closed ahead due to a wreck and to take an alternate route. Not far along, we came to a guy holding up a stop sign. Ahead of him around a bend were some guys working on the side of the road, which isn’t out of the ordinary. However, when a small tree came crashing down blocking both lanes, we realized this wasn’t just roadworks going on. A man took his chainsaw and cut through the top branches and they cleared the tree away, leaving us with no more than a ten minute delay. What next!?

It was about this time (2pm) when my stomach would not stop reminding me that it needed to be fed. We stopped in a small town and got lunch, realizing we weren’t even half way to Napier yet. All I could do was sigh. I was so tired at this point that I could barely stand the thought of more driving. It had to be done, so on we went.

The rain started picking up and as we passed by fields full of animals; you could tell they were just completely over it. I saw a cow standing right up against a tall metal fence just looking defeated. I really felt badly for the cows and the horses. The sheep don’t seem to care, but it just seems miserable for the others. I’m sure they had been in the rain for at least three or four days already. And I thought I had it bad! Fields were flooded, making ponds where there were none previously. The ditches along the roads were filled to the top with muddy water.

The windshield wipers were lulling me into a hypnotic trance and I felt like I had left my body and was just looking down at myself, wide-eyed and zombiefied. I had Foo Fighters and Fugazi to keep me pumped up the first few hours but it was wearing off like a bad Jamaican Blue Mountain caffeine crash. It could not possibly get any worse. Until it did.

Out of nowhere we entered into a new territory that I was not expecting to see. A permanent sign was posted upon the entrance stating: DANGER: HIGH ACCIDENT RATE AREA. I came to find out later that this was the Manawatu Gorge. To my left all I could see was this huge gorge with a raging muddy river, obviously way higher than it would normally be. To my right, a sheer cliff so tall, I couldn’t see the top. Wire netting lined areas to keep rocks from falling on the cars. It was a windy road with huge trucks passing only feet from us.

Driving through the gorge

We weren’t going over 50/kmh at any point. Up high above the water is what probably would have been a lovely little waterfall but had now turned into an angry blast of raging water hitting the side of the mountain. I simply couldn’t believe the amount of water running through here.

I had to try and keep my eyes on Andy’s car in front of me, realizing the severity of the potential situation at hand. Thankfully, we made it through unscathed. For many people on this road though, they have not been so lucky.

Manawatu gorge wreck NOT from my trip. Just showing the difference in water level.

 

Flooding of the gorge

Once we reached a town, we pulled into a gas station and I peeled my fingers from the steering wheel. My body was stiff from the drive and the stress…and we still weren’t near Napier. The alleged four hour drive was turning into a lot longer than that. I felt like I had been awake for days at this point and envisioned myself pulling over under a tree and sleeping in the car until morning. The look on my face was that of sheer exhaustion.  I paid for the gas, leaning with both elbows on the counter, wanting to just take a nap right there. But noooooo…we must move on.

The clocks were set back just a few days prior which meant darkness descended around 6pm now and totally dark by 6:30. It was only about 5:00 when it started seeming TOO dark due to the cloud cover and rain. We still had to meet the guys at the storage unit to unpack everything.  The place closed at 6pm and we didn’t have a code to get in or had even paid for the unit yet. Andy told me he had called them so I assumed all was well.

It was now completely dark and nearing the 6pm mark when the driver called me saying he was sitting in front of the facility. We weren’t far but Andy had taken the route to the place we were staying instead of going straight to the unit. I flashed my lights and we pulled over. It was only then that he said nobody had answered the phone when he tried to call them. I rang the driver back asking if they could find anybody inside while Andy called again. Thankfully, two minutes to 6, the guy answered and waited for us to arrive. In good Kiwi spirit, he had empathy for us having come from Blenheim and didn’t seem too put out to fix us up.  However, the unit was on the 2nd floor. Thankfully there was a lift though and I hoped it was a large one.

In order to get “home” at a decent hour, we ended up helping the guys move our stuff into the unit. They had been at it just as long as we had, albeit with a better night’s sleep behind them and a safer route to follow than us (thanks, Google). We finally finished around 8:30 and then had to find our accommodation in the dark while rain poured down.

We couldn’t have picked a worse time to move, but I feel fortunate that we got here in one piece and that we will never have to do this again. Thankfully, the place we will live until we can find a house is quite nice and comfy and our hostess is lovely. Over the next few days, this nightmare will fade from memory and the sun will shine once again.

Year Four

March 27 marks my fourth year of being a U.S. expat. Once again, I’m still amazed that I’ve been away this long. Lucky number four finds me in the midst of moving on once again to what will be my 31st home since I’ve been gone. My boyfriend accepted a job up on the North Island in the Hastings area, a spot we happened to visit last year on a mini-vacation. Napier is nearby which was the Art Deco town located on the Pacific that I loved so much.

To recap the past year: it was an interesting one! 

I always get out to the vineyards when fall comes to capture the beauty of the changing leaves. We found a spot that was hilly for once so I could get up above it all and capture the (almost) whole picture of this interesting section.

In May, we took a trip down to Kaikoura to visit the seal colony tucked in the woods near a waterfall. Pups are birthed here across the road from the ocean, giving them a safe haven to play and learn all about seal life. Sadly, this area was destroyed by the massive November earthquake. News is that the colony has relocated close by and is doing well.

I still struggle to grasp the months vs. the seasons here when looking back at photos. We went to a small event at a French vineyard in July which is the dead of winter here. People helplessly looked on as this sow dug up a good section of the land and little girls were mesmerized by busy bees.

Meanwhile, our friend’s vineyard was filled with lambs and mothers tending to the “mowing” of the grass and fertilizing the grapevines.

We drove up to Nelson a few times and my life would not be complete without stopping to take amazing photos of low lying clouds.

Out of pure desperation, I was forced to start making my own flour tortillas. I’ve gotten much better at making them round, but it still takes a solid two hours to make and cook just 20 of them. I make sure to savour each and every one.

For Halloween, I tried my hand at some decorative pumpkins which I tried to sell and that went over like flannel sheets on a hot night.

My fascination with lemons continues, having a warm glass of lemon juice to start my mornings off right. The lemons from my neighbour’s 100 year old tree never ceases to amaze me.

And then….it happened:

We were violently shaken awake at 12:02 am feeling like the house was about to come crashing down by what was later categorized as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Thankfully, this turn of the century house swayed and rattled with the movement which probably saved a lot of damage. The only major thing that broke was the chimney. It even stayed intact luckily, as we were standing quite near it when we left the house not thinking it could have potentially fallen on us.

The road to Christchurch is still blocked off to this day with no indication of when it may open again. We haven’t felt many quakes in the past couple of months but the thousands of aftershocks following the big one made me feel helpless and vulnerable.

Then, three days later, I received my temporary residency. Glad that worrying is over with. I’m now allowed to stay in New Zealand indefinitely although my travel is restricted after two years so I would have to either never travel or apply to become a permanent resident.

On a happier note, I was introduced to our local “pest” by Kiwi standards, the hedgehog. The dog started finding one in our yard which alerted us to her presence and then she had babies! It was a very dry stretch of summer for a while after they were born and the dog would find them wandering out in the daylight. They were small and seemed either hungry or thirsty so I would take them in for a feed and water then put them back under the house.

When I started not seeing the mom around anymore, I felt I had to interfere with nature to make sure these kids survived. I ended up marking them with nail polish so I could keep track of their weight and they were named accordingly. One came back to us with mites so I had to take him/her to the vet for treatment and hang onto that one about a week longer than the other two.

Adorable little creatures, they were. I became pretty attached to them and hated to see them go. I set them free at a reserve near the house which has a creek running through it and other hedgehogs present so I know they will have plenty to eat and good places to hide. I expect they are still alive and well.

With a new job on the horizon and the prospect of selling the house, we had our work cut out for us. We learned how to refinish a timber countertop in the kitchen that was badly in need of refurbishment. Not to mention cleaning up the two front bedrooms which were never used by us. 

Many gallons of paint later and hundreds for new carpet netted us two gorgeous, livable rooms that anyone would be happy to have.

The house sold after only five days on the market which had us scrambling to find somewhere to live up north. Unfortunately after three solid days of looking and one offer put in, we ended up with nothing. So I put my old comfortable shoes on and delve into being homeless again after having finally become used to staying in one place for the past couple of years.

A new chapter once again is upon me but it will be a welcomed change (I think). We’re moving out of the rural lifestyle and knowing your neighbours and clerks at the local corner store to the “big city” with traffic lights and unfamiliar faces. We won’t be immune to earthquakes but at least the gas prices are cheaper and there are more choices as far as buying “things” goes. We will even have a great sandy beach nearby (although the water will still be stupid cold). On to a new adventure!