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Skydiving.
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Tessa
The jumpers suited up!

The jumpers suited up!This is the extent of our "safety" training - "put your hands up like this when we jump, and when your insturctor taps you on the shoulder, put them down. Also, make your body in the shape of a banana." Seriously?Cool sign, but it would have been so much funnier if his head would have been cut off!

Us walking towards the perfectly good plane we are about to jump out of!

Us walking towards the perfectly good plane we are about to jump out of!

I have a theory. It may already be proven, but my theory is that the human brain releases a chemical to numb the “common sense” portion of our brain to make death easier. I have come up with this theory because of the fact that for the 20 minutes before we were jumping out of a plane, we were all giddy and happy like we were going to some special event. I have to admit though, the only thing I can remember that didn’t seem like a dream was the instructor telling me to sit on his lap so he could properly strap me in. I’m not sure if everything was echoing because I was light headed (not in the sick way, in the OMG what the HECK am I doing way) or because I had something strapped to my head that covered my ears.

I remember looking up at around 6000 feet and thinking, “There is no way in the world I am jumping here”- but after we got to around 10000 feet, and the squares of farming land melted together like a bunch of chocolate squares, I thought “huh. I can’t even see the ground. I’m glad we went to 12000 instead of 6000”. I watched as my Dad crawled to the edge of the plane. The plane was traveling so fast that I didn’t even see him falling, only him zooming out to the left as the plane traveled away from him. Olivia had a more dramatic fall and I could see her falling out of the plane before flipping backwards. I remember STARTING to crawl towards the whole in the side of the plane, but I don’t remember the actual crawling itself. I do, of course, remember dangling over the side of the plane 12000 feet in the air right before we jumped.

"Ah, the serenity"

"Ah, the serenity"

OMG - what have I done!

OMG - what have I done!

My stomach felt like it was in my throat as we lunged out of the plane, but was gone in an instant. I wouldn’t have realized my mouth was open if my teeth had not instantly felt cold and my mouth dry. It felt like I was standing in a very cold wind on the edge of a cliff EXCEPT for the fact that my feet weren’t touching the ground, and I was plummeting to the earth. It was oddly discomforting to have someone strapped to my back- and if I ever go again, I want to take a solo course so that I can go by myself.

Lisa Barrett - this one's for you!

Once the initial shock was over, it was AWESOME! Lisa Barrett - this one's for you - peace sister!Our cameraman was below us falling like he was dead! My "free fall" lasted for about 45 seconds and was my favorite part of the jump.Still in free fall - about to go through the clouds which I didn't even notice!

I swear that my cameraman was dead (or at least unconscious). The camera man had originally been my back up plan if our parachute didn’t work (that if my instructor fainted, the cameraman could probably rescue us) but now I was afraid that we might have to rescue him. He was sitting there so peacefully and it looked like he was either savoring the moment, or was knocked out cold. I decided to go for the savoring the moment assumption and continued to smile at the camera strapped to his head. Then he pulled the shoot and we were drifting. It was kind of awkward having a guy strapped to my back.

“So… Those things that look like little grains of rice down there… Are those sheep…?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wow. They’re like…really small…”

“Uh-huh.”

“And…Um… Where are we landing this thing?” Suddenly a hand came over my shoulder and pointed at a small green patch with larger rice grains on it (planes, not cows. You can still tell the difference 6000 feet in the air).

“How cold is the lake…?”

“`Dunno…”

I gave up trying to make conversation with the guy strapped to my back after a couple more efforts at small talk. I don’t know how high we were, but at some point, he explained how to land to me, and we landed. Olivia and my dad were already inside getting unsuited. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I had a huge grin on my face until my mom ran up and hugged me.

Back to earth - check out my perfect landing form (the instructor told me what to do about 10 seconds before my feet touched down!)

Back to earth - check out my perfect landing form (the instructor told me what to do about 10 seconds before my feet touched down!)

Thumbs up!  First thing I said to my mom... "that was AWESOME - they have a $50 off coupon for my next jump!"

Thumbs up! First thing I said to my mom after landing... "Oh my god that was AWESOME - they have a $50 off coupon for my next jump!"Post jump reunion - we're all ready to jump again - solo next time!

I loved the whole thing! Even drifting with the instructour was great! I’d go again in a heart beat.

OMG – Who farted?
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Kate
A giant sulphur pool in the middle of town - ugg!

A giant sulphur pool in the middle of town - ugg!

Oh my goodness – there is a town in New Zealand called Rotorua and it smells like the whole place had too much cabbage on St. Paddy’s Day!

Giant steaming pools of goo - each color is a different "element" oozing from the earth - pretty from afar, but don't stand downwind!

Giant steaming pools of goo - each color is a different "element" oozing from the earth - pretty from afar, but don't stand downwind!

The official word is that the Earth’s crust is very “thin” here, and as a result, lots of gas escape from – well all over!   There are “pools” of boiling mud, clouds of sulphur, and gaint colorful pits in the ground full of toxic goo.  It is every eight-year old boy’s dream come true (Jeff thought it pretty cool too).  Of course we don’t blame the smells on the poor defenseless earth - every time we caught a wiff we blamed in on Phoebe – which causes endlessly funny squeals of protest. 

Look Out - the wind has shifted and the "cloud" is closing in...

Look Out - the wind has shifted and the "cloud" is closing in...

Rotorua – kind of bad roadside attraction compliments of Mother Nature.  If you’re in the neighborhood worth a day’s exploring if you’re not smell averse…

pools3 running

We have a teenager!
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Kate

Tess turned 13 on January 5th.  Can’t believe it.  My baby. 

A black "emo" jacket, a "peace" bikini, and Twilight - is she a teenager or WHAT?

A black "emo" jacket, a "peace" bikini, and Twilight - is she a teenager or WHAT?

 Of course for her birthday she wanted to do something “awesome”, which of course, for Tessa, means hurdling herself into harm’s way.  Skydiving was her first choice, but we have heard over and over again that Queenstown is the place to be for skydiving (we’d be there in a week) – so we needed to find some other extreme sport to satisfy her need for danger.

Tessa ZORBING!

Tessa ZORBING!

 So we went “ZORBING”.  It’s pretty much a huge clear hamster ball inside an even larger hamster ball.  They take you up a giant hill, put you and a big bucket of water into the inner ball, and roll your butt down a steep, curving track.

 Tess tried her best to run inside the ball, but the water and the centrifical force turned her into a laughing tumbling dizzy mess.  It was totally hysterical to watch. 

 Phoebe and Olivia faired little better, but had a blast and all came whoosing out of their balls with huge smiles on their faces. 

Phoebe, Olivia, and Tessa - post-zorbing

Phoebe, Olivia, and Tessa - post-zorbing

 A totally awesome birthday for a totally awesome kid (if I do say so myself!).

Driving across the North Island
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Kate

The rolling green hills of the North Island are SO beautiful – its like a postcard here!  Tessa is in heaven as there are sheep literally EVERYWHERE.  Not joking.  There are 4.1 million people in all of New Zealand and 40 million sheep.  Where there aren’t sheep, there are cows.  Be assured that if you buy New Zealand beef or lamb – those babies are grass fed and led a very nice life before becoming your dinner.

 Each of us has at some time in the last week spontaneously starting belting out “the hills are alive, with the sound of music” because everywhere you turn it looks like Julie Andrews might just be at the top of the pretty green hill singing away.  I have a great series of photos of Phoebe dancing, twirling, and singing through a field of tall grass that I am going to turn into a flip book when we get home – it SO captures the feeling you have here in these never-ending rolling green pastures.

The traditional "Italian" Garden at the Hamilton Gardens - with Phoebe posing of course!

The traditional "Italian" Garden at the Hamilton Gardens - with Phoebe posing of course!

On our way down to the Bay of Plenty (east coast) from Auckland (west coast) we stopped in a city called Hamilton.  Never actually saw the city center, but it has one of the most impressive public gardens I have ever seen in my life.  If you are ever in Hamilton – GO!  Actually, if you like gardens, and are anywhere near NZ – make a special trip to go and see it.  In addition to the regular pretty flowers and trees, it had 6 large traditional gardens from around the world that were really quite amazing.  These demonstration gardens wisked you away to China, Japan, England, India, Italy, and the US.  Also, they had the veggie garden of my dreams…

Tess, Olivia, and Phoebe in front of the Chinese Garden

Tess, Olivia, and Phoebe in front of the Chinese Garden

From the gardens we headed east across the island through the stinky town of Rotorua (more on that later) and on to the beach town of Ohope.  The drive was filled mostly with sheep and lovely rolling hills, but past Rotorua was a beautiful stretch of land with forested mountains and totally beautiful – totally uninhabited lakes.  There were like 10 of these lakes, and only one had about 10 houses on its shores.  We find ourselves saying over and over again – we can’t believe this place is so empty – if this was America this (fill in the blank):  picturesque lake, rolling green countryside, beachfront property, etc. would be filled with zillion dollar homes.  But they’re not!  It feels like the “land of plenty” in terms of beautiful places that could be developed but aren’t.  Guess that’s what gives this place its charm – otherwise it’d just be another island chain of active volcanos!

So this giant sheep made of corregated metal is actually a two-story wool sweater store.  We drove through this odd little town that was completely dedazzled in corregation!?!  Literally, everything - the shops, the signs, the playground were made of corregated metal.  We sadly forgot to find out the town's real name - so we fondly refer to it as "Corregation Nation"

So this giant sheep made of corregated metal is actually a two-story wool sweater store. We drove through this odd little town that was completely dedazzled in corregation!?! Literally, everything - the shops, the signs, the playground were made of corregated metal. We sadly forgot to find out the town's real name - so we fondly refer to it as "Corregation Nation"

We had a great time in Ohope with our couchsurfing hosts Heike and her son Simon.  The beaches in Ohope were wide and overlooked a large volcanic island not far offshore.  The closest town to Ohope was Whakatane.  Now to the untrained eye, the name of this town looks like it would be pronounced “whak a tawn e”, however, it is a Maori name, and the Maori pronounce the “Wh” as an “F”.  So, much to our parental dismay, the children are walking around correctly (and loudly) saying the town’s name and sound like they are cursing like sailors.  Lovely. 

Yes, we know this isn't a REAL sign, but it was up the whole time we were in Ohope, and it made us laugh...

Yes, we know this isn't a REAL sign, but it was up the whole time we were in Ohope, and it made us laugh...

Couchsurfing with Heike in Ohope - awesome digs right on the beach!

Couchsurfing with Heike in Ohope - awesome digs right on the beach!

The beaches in New Zealand all have very dark grey to almost black sand.  I never knew this – but with all the volcanic activity, I guess it makes sense.   I find it really wierd to lay on a dark grey beach, I try and try to think of it as just regular sand, but it still looks dirty to me.  Ironically, the beaches, water, and sand are probably WAY cleaner than any beach in the States.  On one really windy day, we all left the beaches looking like we had moustaches and beards – the fine fine sand sticks to any and all hair.  Thankfully, the sand and wind made taking my camera out of the bag a bad idea – otherwise the girls would no doubt be posting VERY unflattering pics of me in a bikini with a female body and a man’s face – circus freak anyone?

New Zealand
Jan 18th, 2010 by Kate
Auck par
The city of Auckland from Mission Bay
The city of Auckland from Mission Bay

New Zealand, at least for me, was one of the countries I was really looking forward to visiting.  As much travel and gallivant, I still wondered if we’d ever make it there – it’s just so darn far away and not really near anything else.  Back when we were planning our route, NZ was on and off the list a bunch of times… too far, too expensive to get to, too cold when it was “convenient” for us to travel there.  But then there were the arguments for going now… we’re sort of close-ish, we could go in their summer, the NZ dollar is actually decent against the US dollar, when would be ever be this close again, we need to go now as we’ll be too poor when we get back to ever go anywhere again, and we have just heard over and over again that it really is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 So here we are, in the land of fiords, sheep, volcanoes, sheep, cows, lovely rolling hills covered in sheep, rugged coast line, cold-ass water, seals, sailboats, adventure sports, shops selling wool (read: sheep), and a bunch of really nice people who are English speaking and amazingly even harder to understand than the Aussies next door. 

My sister Olivia has joined us for the month in Oz!

My sister Olivia has joined us for the month in Oz!

Just a week before we arrived in NZ, my sister Olivia (who has a new found wild streak – go figure!) decided to fly out from Florida and meet us here.  We were all SO excited!  We have definitely fallen into a travel routine being on road for over six months now, and we were all happy to have an infusion of “new blood”.  Plus, Olivia is just plain fun, and we missed seeing her last summer before we left so we were ready for some time with her. 

 And while we were busy celebrating the New Year in Sydney Harbor, she was literally over the middle of the Pacific Ocean totally missing the New Year all together.  In New Zealand, we are either the first or second time zone, so it works out that we are now 17 hours ahead of AZ and 20 hours ahead of the East Coast of the US – so… we are in your future…  When she crossed over the Pacific coming this way, she lost an entire day.  December 31st never happened.  After careful consideration of the globe, I understand how this happens, but it’s still trippy to me.

 Auckland is a beautiful and very cool city.  It is also a city on the water, so it has that awesome “city by the bay” vibe that always makes a city cooler if you ask me.  The only bummer about Auckland is that the whole place apparently shuts down for about two weeks after Xmas, and we sadly fell into that time warp.  All and all it was probably for the best, as we saw lots of cute shops that were calling our names.  I’ve been super good about not shopping during the trip, but I have two things going against me here, one, the US dollar is strong here so its like everything is automatically 30% off, and two, my sister is a really bad influence on me. 

 Only being able to stand window shopping for so long, we were forced to venture out to see some of the great city. 

The hydrangas here are amazing - one of my favorite flowers - here they are bigger than dinner plates!

The hydrangas here are amazing - one of my favorite flowers - here they are bigger than dinner plates!

Rose gardens are always a highlight for me, and the super super long summer days down here (as Phoebe likes to point out, we are down under the down under) make for really spectacular gardens.  I have this theory about why the gardens of Canada, England, and now New Zealand are so amazing in their summer times – I think that because they are so far north (or south in NZ’s case), they have extra long days in the summer so they get double the sunlight and therefore are doubly beautiful.  Botanist friends out there – is there any truth to that?  But I digress…

The Rose Garden in Auckland is situated high on a bluff above, oddly enough, the shipping yards.  If you just hang out in the park and don’t venture to the railing, you never even notice the cranes and containers just below the cliff, and just see the pretty bay in the distance.  There is a beautiful park attached to the gardens that has one of the largest trees I have EVER seen in it.  I need to find out for sure what kind of tree it is, but the locals in Auckland just call it “the big tree”.  It was massive! 

This is about 1/32nd of the tree - do you see the girls in the tree?

This is about 1/32nd of the tree - do you see the girls in the tree?

The main trunk was probably 6 meters in diameter, but it was the branches that made it so spectacular.  The entire canopy of the tree was probably 60 meters in diameter (Jeff agrees, I am not over exaggerating), and the branches came out of the main trunk then set down their own roots a few meters away.  There were kids hanging out over in one area, some Korean tourist posing for photos in another area, and a bunch of people just climbing around in it.  It was so big that in all about 20 people were enjoying the tree and you weren’t anywhere near any of them.  We spent a good hour in the tree ourselves, and were all sad to leave it.  There were two women my age climbing around in it, and they said they used to come to play tag in the tree when they were little girls.  The only rule was that you could never set foot on the ground.  If I lived in Auckland, I would move to a house close to this tree just to be able to visit it every day.

 Another highlight of Auckland was the Auckland Museum (good exhibits but the weirdest laid out building I have ever been in – bad flow).  We learned a ton about volcanoes and the tectonic plates that piece New Zealand together, the Maori people that braved the high seas only 800 years before the Europeans arrived, and lots about the flora and fauna of NZ.  Did you know that New Zealand doesn’t have a single indigenous land mammal?  Not one!  There were lizards, lots of birds, and of course lots of sea mammals, but not a single bunny, mouse or anything!  Now there are so many possums here that they are capturing them like mink and turning them into “wool possum” blended sweaters (jumpers).  Yes they are soft, but something about it seems just wrong. 

 There is a really pretty drive along the water in a place called Mission Bay.  Also, close to the rose gardens there’s a great neighborhood called Parnell.  Both reminded me a LOT of Coronado Island in California, lots of pretty 1910’s -1930’s bungalows and an assortment of other English-style cottages with great water views, boutique-lined main streets, small green parks, and pretty people.  Mission Bay was swarming with rad kite surfers – they made it look so easy and fun – and at the top of the bluff at the end of Mission Bay there was a tremendous view of downtown Auckland.  The houses on the bluff would have been an easy $10mil in California – but you could pick one up here for the price of a nice track house in Scottsdale…

 

Our awesome couchsurfing hosts Lorenzo and Lucy!

Our awesome couchsurfing hosts Lorenzo and Lucy!

The most fun part of our stay in Auckland was definitely couchsurfing with Lorenzo and Lucy though!  They are awesome!  Originally from South Africa, they came to NZ years ago to raise their kids.  Lorenzo is an accomplished tri-athlete, and ran the 10K for SA in the Barcelona Olympics.  We had a great time with them – went to a pool party and met a ton of great people, and made a big dinner at his house that we were happy to share with some fun Danish couchsurfers and Lorenzo’s extended circle of friends.  Lorenzo has an incredible life story, and we were all grateful for the opportunity to meet them both.

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