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!



Lower North Island: Napier & Taupo

maori rock carvings taupo mine bay

We took a trip to the lower North Island, which I wasn’t familiar with at all. Starting in Wellington, we worked our way up through Masterton to Hastings/Napier (the Art Deco capital of the world, allegedly) then to Taupo and back down toward Palmerston North.

Cape kidnappers sign beach


Having read about the promise of wide, warm, golden sand beaches and Cape Kidnappers, which just sounds cool, I knew it would be a stop on the way to Napier. Because of my directional challenges and inability to read a map, we missed the warm sandy beach but did get as far down the road as we could to view Cape Kidnappers. Aptly named by Captain Cook after an attempt by a local Maori to abduct a crew member of his in 1769. The only way to get out to that stretch of land is by a tour or a very long walk. It’s a gannet breeding area and would have been nice to see but that beach was calling my name. Turns out I was WAY off course in finding it, as we found out later.

napier main road pine trees
Road leading into Napier

Napier from the beach

Napier is a quaint seaside town located on Hawke’s Bay. Unfortunately it was a rock beach (I can’t seem to escape those) but the shopping made up for it and it was sunny and warm. This town had been leveled by an earthquake in 1931 and over 250 people were killed. Art deco was the popular style at the time and the town was rebuilt in that fashion.

Napier art deco building

There were a bunch of seaside wall art paintings which I just love!

Napier whale seawall art

Napier shark seawall art

Napier whale seawall art

Napier wall art jellyfish

Napier wall art jellyfish

Near the port there was a small tower with more paintings on it as well.

Napier lookout tower

Napier lookout tower

Napier lookout tower

The walk along the port had these gorgeous purple flowers and of course the ginormous bumble bees were there as well.

Napier port

napier purple flowers bee

New Zealand has the best flowers and gardens…this one in the Centennial Gardens had a waterfall.

Napier botanical gardens waterfall

A pier had a cool covering over it which drew people in (although there was really nothing to see at the end of it).

Napier pier

Napier pier

Destined to find that spot called Ocean Beach, we headed out on a nice sunny day and finally came across it! This was the view at the top of the road looking onto it.

Hastings Ocean Beach

Fairly deserted, we staked out a spot in the sand and relaxed.

Hastings Ocean Beach

Round about 3:30 it started to cool down and people began leaving. We weren’t far behind.

Hastings Ocean Beach Road
Road leading down to Ocean Beach


craggy rock vineyard cows

We drove past Craggy Range winery which had these huge cattle statues in their front lawn. Unfortunately, they were closed so we weren’t able to do a tasting.

welcome to taupo sign

On to Taupo via the Thermal Explorer Highway. Taupo lake is in a caldera (volcanic crater) which is as big as Singapore! There’s still a slight possibility that it may erupt again someday. I booked a room for two nights which included a private tub in the back yard that can be filled with hot thermal water. Hopefully the volcano will keep a lid on it until I’m done.

taupo mount tauhara

Mount Tauhara was the first thing we saw before cresting over the hill and getting a view of the lake. On the horizon you could see three volcanoes: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. People from around the world come to do the Tongariro crossing, a 19.4km journey through this dual World Heritage site. It ranks in the top 10 single day treks in the world.

taupo 3 volcanoes

We went on a sailing trip in fairly choppy waters and it was the only day the three volcanoes were visible during our time there. We grabbed some shelter in Acacia Bay where there was no wind at all. The hills were dotted with very unique and individually designed homes. Most of these are only used a few weeks out of the year as vacation homes. Must be nice.

taupo acacia bay homes

taupo acacia bay homes

taupo acacia bay homes

These Maori rock carvings were done in the 70’s.

maori rock carvings taupo mine bay

maori rock carvings taupo mine bay

maori rock carvings taupo mine bay

maori rock carvings taupo mine bay

maori rock carvings taupo mine bay

Later that evening we parked along the lake and watched the sunset.

taupo sunset

We checked out some thermal terraces that had hot springs and took a walk through an area called Craters of the Moon. A barren, steamy area that, in black and white, certainly would remind you of the Moon! I was actually reminded of Woody Allen’s “Smoke and Fog.”

taupo thermal terraces

taupo thermal terraces

taupo thermal terraces

taupo thermal terraces

Craters of the moon taupo

taupo thermal terraces

Craters of the moon taupo

Some ducks provided a nice photo op as well.

Craters of the moon taupo

Craters of the moon taupo

Along that same stretch of road was a sign for another thermal walkway so we popped in, not thinking we’d see all of these cool animals!

Peacocks strutted their stuff, trying to impress the females. Rabbits hung out in cages, chickens with their chicks ran around looking for food and alpacas seemed annoyed, ready to spit in my face.

thermal walkway taupo peacocks

thermal walkway taupo peacocks

thermal walkway taupo peacocks

thermal walkway taupo peacocks

thermal walkway taupo peacocks

thermal walkway taupo alpaca

We stopped into a shop called the Bee Hive and I picked up some honey. Found some of that Manuka honey I’ve been on about. Anybody up for some? It costs about as much as a hotel room!

manuka honey

As we traveled toward Palmerston North, we drove on the Desert Road through the Rangipo Desert. Weird, right? No cactus here! Just tussocks and sand. It sort of reminded me of being back down south on the farm. It resembles a desert due to the low amount of rain as well as the sterilization of seeds from volcanic eruptions about 20,000 years ago. You’d think something would have sprouted up by now, but the soil quality is bad so only tussocks and snow grasses remain.

desert road new zealand north island

desert road new zealand north island

desert road new zealand north island

It was nice to be able to see more of the country and I finally feel like I have a great overview of New Zealand’s terrain. I won’t forget how fortunate I’ve been to live here but am still in complete denial that I’m so close to the South Pole. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the weather!

Typical NZ...what you see in front of you isn't what always what's in back!
Typical NZ…what you see in front of you isn’t always what’s in back!