Hello from New Zealand!

I completely forgot to mention Grant’’s deep sea fishing triumph during my last entry. While at the Octopus Resort, Grant went out with a few others and caught his very first really big fish! It was a 10kg yellow fin tuna and it was served up the next day for lunch. AND, we got a picture of it this time – …not like a certain memorable incident in NZ a few years back….

They served up the tuna for lunch the following day and it was beautiful. Interestingly enough, however, the resort served it as the lunch special at $12 a plate. We thought that if they were going to SELL the tuna, Grant should have at least gotten a bar tab or something out of the deal. The group quite happily agreed to donate the other fish caught to the village, but to have someone make money off your catch –- that you paid lots of money to catch –- didn’t really sit very well. I’ll post some pics as soon as I get a decent connection to do so.

Now we’’re in New Zealand, and I’’ll try and catch up on what’’s been going on the past few weeks:

The flight from Nadi to Auckland went really smoothly, but we sure missed the in-seat TVs. When we arrived in Auckland, they actually had a faster line to process handicapped passengers and those with small children –- same thing, I guess! We zipped through customs, and waited about five minutes for the shuttle from the rental company to show up. We rented our car with Ace rentals and talk about good service. Fast and efficient –- nothing like Britz!

We managed to jam all of our luggage into the trunk of the car and headed off to the Warehouse to buy even more stuff. Once we we’re fully stocked with groceries, Jessica is kind of perched in the middle of bags of bread and stuff and we have to turn her sideways to get her out of the vehicle without squashing the bread! Ah well, the car is really good on gas, and Grant is having fun driving it compared to the campervan we had in Australia.

Speaking of the campervan, Britz finally refunded some of our money for all the hassles we had with it. I doubt we’ll deal with them again, but it certainly makes me feel better about putting up with all the crap we dealt with while we were living in the stupid thing. The guy we complained to actually took the time to write us a two page letter addressing each issue we came across. Good customer service in the end!

Once we’’d stocked up on groceries and stuff we headed off to Jeremy’’s place and were pleasantly surprised to find him at home. He and his fiancée Ellen had planned to be out of town and were nice enough to let us crash at their place while they were out. But, with crappy weather and work stuff, they decided to stay home and head out the next day. It was great to meet Ellen and catch up with Jeremy. Jeremy taught Grant some of the finer points of NZ beer drinking and I turned the place into a Laundromat as we’’d arrived from Fiji with pretty much all our clothes dirty. (at $5 per pair of underwear we weren’t about to use the laundry service at the Westin!)

From Auckland we headed out to Waitomo to check out the glow worms. The drive was gorgeous, and it is SO nice to be able to sit up front and watch the scenery again! We’’d forgotten about how lovely the New Zealand countryside is. It seems like the top of every hill brings yet another amazing view of gently rolling green hills covered in summer flowers, trees, lush ferns, and dotted about with sheep and cows.

Once we arrived in Waitomo, we checked into our motel room at Woodlyn Park. http://www.woodlynpark.co.nz/ The room we stayed in was actually built inside the cockpit of a plane that saw active duty in Vietnam. It wasn’t the most luxurious of accommodations, but it was pretty cool to sleep in the cockpit. They have two units built into the plane and you could feel the other people walking around in the tail section. I’’m sure they were less than amused with Jessica running up and down the cockpit until after midnight! She’s had a big nap in the car and just wouldn’t go to sleep. The birds got their own back in the morning, though. We had a bunch of them nesting in one of the engines and they were loud in the morning –- along with a bunch of turkeys gobbling along on the second morning.

The day of our arrival, we took Jessica on a tour of the glowworm caves. We walked through a dry cave and into a cavern called the cathedral. The acoustics were amazing and the guide even sang a bit for us to show them off. Turns out that they hold concerts in there and several famous groups like the Vienna Boy’s Choir and even Rod Stewart have held concerts there.  Of course, while we’re learning all this, I’’m trying to stop my darling daughter from kicking the roped-off thousands of years old cave formations! After the cathedral, we walked on a bit until we hit an underground river. We boarded a boat and the guide cut the lights completely. Everyone -– including Jessica –- was quiet and awestruck as we glided down the river and gazed at the glowworm constellations on the ceiling of the cave.

The following day, Grant hung out with Jessica while I went on the Lost World Epic Adventure -– 8/10 Rambo rating. When I asked the guide if they had any 10/10 trips he told me I could do this one with no wetsuit. I politely declined the offer. The trip started the way these trips generally do –- with “The Stupid Outfit.” In this case, the stupid outfit was a wetsuit, helmet with a lamp, a climbing harness that greatly accentuates your bum, and very spiffy white rubber boots.

Once we had geared ourselves up, we hiked through the forest to the cave entrance. Given the recent rain, the path was slippery and we got a good opportunity to try out our new ropes. We all knew that we were headed for a 100m abseil to get into the cave system, and had seen the stunning photos in the brochure, but it still didn’t prepare us for the reality that is the Lost World.

We walked onto a metal catwalk –- roped in, of course -– and peered between our feet at the 100 meter drop into what really did look like the Lost World. The walls of the sink hole were carpeted with ferns and lush greenery and everything was wet from humidity and recent rain. A lovely little stream ran through the bottom, and shafts of sunlight cut through the mist into the darkness below. I expected a T-Rex to push it’s head through the forest at any moment! The view was spectacular, awe-inspiring, and, frankly, a wee bit on the “holy-shit-is-that-a-big-drop-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-up-here” side!

We all shuffled out onto the catwalk which was barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. We were roped to a guide rope that was fastened to the wall, so and our feet were still on solid ground, so I still felt pretty good about the whole thing. Running parallel to the catwalk was a fat metal bar about three feet out. Above this bar was some sort of metal framework and the ropes we were about to descend on hung from the framework and between the bar and the catwalk.

The guide looks at me and says: “grab the rope and swing your bum onto that bar.” At this point none of us had any idea how we were going to manage all our gear & ropes, etc during the descent. We knew how to clip onto the guide rope and that was about it. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable out there without knowing exactly what was going to come next! Once I got my bum securely on the bar, though, it made a bit more sense. The guide needed to show me how the ropes were going to work -– and it was easier to do while I was actually in position.

He got me all roped up and moved onto the next person in line. My butt was on the metal bar, and my feet were propped on the edge of the catwalk and that’’s all that was holding me up (besides the ropes, which I still didn’t really believe would actually work!) I could look between my legs and see a very very long way down. But, I was feeling pretty cocky about how well I was handling the whole situation until I felt a sharp pain in the hand holding the rope. I looked down and saw the marks my nails were making in the palm of my hand and some very white knuckles and forced myself to relax. I’’d like to think I looked better than the guy next to me, though, I swear he turned green with fright. Enough to make me relax my death grip on the rope to pat him on the shoulder, anyway!

Getting my bum out onto that bar was the hardest part, and the second hardest was kicking my legs free and letting the ropes do their job. Once we’’d descended a few feet, though, I got the hang of it (and figured out that –- hey -– these ropes really do work) and started having fun with it and enjoying the spectacular scenery. What a rush! I LOVE abseiling!!!!!

Upon reaching the bottom, and unhooking from the lines, we started climbing. It was a hot climb in our wetsuits as it was all uphill and we hadn’t entered the cave yet. We still had our harnesses on as there were places inside the cave where we’’d need to rope in. The caving itself was a blast. We climbed over slippery rocks, squeezed through tight places, scaled waterfalls, waded through a river, and even had to swim in places. Lunch was eaten perched precariously on some rocks above the river. There were several places where we got to jump off cliffs into the dark water below. The tallest of these was about 30feet and I got water up my damn nose every single time I jumped! Jumping with the lights off was really trippy, too.

We spent several hours making our way through the cave and near the end we took a break for a hot drink and everyone turned off their lights again. On the roof of the cave was a stunning display of glow worms. We relaxed and gawked at the ceiling for a while and then headed out of the cave for –- surprise – –a two kilometer walk over the hills! Blah -– that was the only really bad part of the trip; slogging our way uphill in the blazing sun wearing a wetsuit, climbing harness and rubber boots that stayed filled with water no matter how many times we tried to empty them. A hot shower and nice BBQ dinner awaited us, though, so the guides were forgiven the forced march.

The following day, we drove to Tauranga to check out the tattoo parlor -– Bohemian Arts – that Grant had an appointment with the following day. The artist wasn’t in so we looked over some pictures of his work, did a little shopping, and headed out to Katikati to find the little cottage I’’d booked for the week. Talk about secluded –- Pinehaven cottage is about a ten minute drive outside of the small town of Katikati then about another five minutes down a steep two lane track into the forest.

The cottage had two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a combined kitchen/living area. It also had satellite TV, so Grant and Jessica were both happy! We couldn’t see another house or even a road -– just the surrounding forest, a lovely little babbling river, masses of wildflowers, and a distant green hill dotted with, of course, more sheep. The woods resounded with the cricket-like sound of bugs whose name I keep forgetting. To Jessica’s delight there was a trampoline on the lawn as well. The only major drawback was no phone in the cottage and the nearest one was quite a walk if one of us was left there without the car.

The other thing I really don’’t understand is why New Zealanders don’t believe in window screens! There are tons of mosquitoes, moths, and any number of creepy crawlies that come in uninvited. Instead of a screen they have an insect repellent dispenser in the room that blasts poison into the air. We’’d wake up in the morning to dead flies on the counters. Every place we’ve stayed before or since seemed to have the same set-up; I have yet to see a place with window screens installed.  But, it was a good place to relax in for a week and let Daddy recover from his tattoo session!

Grant left early the next morning for his tattoo appointment. At that point, all he knew is that he was going to get something that resembled a Maori ‘Ta Moko’ tattoo –- but that wouldn’t be considered culturally insensitive, and that he wanted it to cover his shoulder and upper arm. Pepa, the Czechoslovakian tattoo artist, told him to write down a few things about himself and his family that he’’d like to have represented in the design. When he arrived with his list of stuff to include, Pepa looked through the sample book with Grant to see what sort of thing appealed to him, and told him to come back in half an hour and he’’d have something worked out.

When he returned, Pepa drew two large circles on Grant’s arm and shoulder to remind him where the edges of the tattoo would be. He then reassured Grant that there would be a bit more to the design than that, but this was just “the frame of the house,” so to speak. At this point Grant had no idea what the tattoo was actually going to look like and Pepa was all ready with the needles and ink. Talk about nervous!

Grant was quite relieved to see that the studio was as sterile as an operating room and, aside from the constant heavy-metal background music, no creepy biker-influence anywhere! We’’d read horror stories on the web about stoned or drunk tattoo artists, and he was initially concerned that we didn’t know very much about this studio. Pepa made him feel very comfortable, though, and was the consummate professional.

Pepa started tattooing and what started out as a vibration quickly turned into a burning sensation as Grant tried to block out the increasing level of pain. Once the outline of the design was complete, Grant was better able to see what the finished product was going to look like and relaxed quite a bit about the whole process. After completing the outline, Pepa began to fill it in with various forms of shading that involved various levels of pain. Apparently, the shoulder bits are quite tender! He kept at it for about 7 hours with nothing more than a few pee breaks and some design consultation.

The final product is a genuinely beautiful piece of body art. Pepa is a first rate tattoo artist and Grant is glad he decided to get such a large piece of work done for his first tattoo. Apparently, Pepa was a bit jealous as his first tattoos are all small and now he can’’t work them into anything. Frankly, I’’m just pleased Grant didn’t walk into some random market stall, and he’’s really happy that he has a totally unique tattoo that has deep personal meaning for him. We’’ll put some pics up on the web when it’s fully healed and picture worthy. The only drawback (besides the price and the pain!) is the two weeks without swimming, diving, or even sunbathing.

The day after Grant got his tattoo, we went into Katikati to buy him a couple of used t-shirts and find him somewhere to get his hair cut. Amazingly, there’’s about five hair salons in the booming metropolis of Katikati and all but one were booked solid. Against the warning of the salon across the street, Grant jumped into a chair at the one place that had some free time.

As soon as the stylist discovered he wanted a fairly simple cut, she called her boss over and turned Grant over to her. It all started out not too badly, with the woman chatting away and the stylist hovering and giving helpful pointers. Then things started to go a bit awry when the lady almost stalled the clippers out in Grant’’s hair and he could start to see bits of his scalp poking out. This is when she reveals that she’’s only just bought the salon and, in fact, she used to be ‘in bugs.’ Apparently she used to be some sort of expert in fruit pests. At this point, Grant was sweating it and trying to make polite conversation while watching this woman completely decimate his hair. It was also the point where the other stylist stepped in and attempted to save the day. All she managed, however, was to trim one of Grant’s sideburns about an inch shorter than the other one, and left both sideburns -– somehow –- two different lengths each. Completely shell shocked, Grant paid the woman and stumbled out the door.

The end result was completely laughable. Seriously a contender for the worst haircut of the trip so far; worse even than the one on the Gold Coast. The top was all fluffy like chicken feathers, there were patches of scalp showing through on the sides, and the sideburns were amazingly uneven and weird. Grant was LIVID and too angry to go back. I went back in and asked for a refund and the girl said: “He isn’t happy with it?” Got the money back, though, and an apology. Grant sulked in the car and wouldn’t come out to go into the grocery store. I tried to cheer him up by reminding him that it could have been good haircut –- bad tattoo, which would have been infinitely worse! But, he didn’t feel better about it until he had it re-cut and somewhat salvaged the following day.

Unfortunately for our loyal viewers, I was a nice enough wife not to take a photo. But Jessica was not so kind, and refused to speak to Grant the following day saying that she “wanted a new Daddy” and that he “had a fat head.” She wouldn’t speak to him for hours and screamed when he sat next to her!

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