Welcome to Auckland =D

on October 29, 2010

Usually I only have weekends off to go travelling or do whatever... Last week, however, I left the farm on Thursday already to head down do Auckland. I was going to see Leonard Cohen live in concert!!! For those of you who don't have a clue who he is - this is a small excerpt of his bio from the official Leonard-Cohen-Website:

For four decades, Leonard Cohen has been one of the most important and influential songwriters of our time, a figure whose body of work achieves greater depths of mystery and meaning as time goes on. His songs have set a virtually unmatched standard in their seriousness and range. [...] His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), announced him as an undeniable major talent. [...] Part of the reason why Cohen’s early work revealed such a high degree of achievement is that he was an accomplished literary figure before he ever began to record. His collections of poetry [...] and his novels [...] had already brought him considerable recognition. His dual careers in music and literature have continued feeding each other over the decades – his songs revealing a literary quality rare in the world of popular music, and his poetry and prose informed by a rich musicality.

To be honest, until about two years ago I had no idea who he was either. Then one day i heard that song in some series I watched. And it deeply touched me. I had to google it, find out who's voice can give you such goosegumps. The song I heard was called "In my secret life" and is still my favorite.

The concert was more than worth it! It lasted almost 4 hours and the range of songs Cohen provided was unbelievable. But I enjoyed every single one. His voice is unique and though that man is 76 years old he still knows how to entertain. I am glad I got to see him and will definitely get some of his CDs.

Being in Auckland of course I also played tourist and had a look at the city. With 1.4 million people more than a fourth of the whole population of New Zealand lives here. But the most impressive fact is that Auckland is built on 48 volcanoes. Not all of them are dead - just sleeping. From the top of those volcanic cones you get an amazing view over the city. This picture was taken from Mt. Eden:

I started getting to know Auckland by hopping on the Auckland Explorer, the typical double-decker tourist bus that takes you across the city and stops at all the major attractions. The commentary tells you some interesting bits and pieces and you get a small discount e.g. to the Auckland Museum and Kelly Tarlton.

The Auckland Museum is definitely worth a visit.

It has some interesting exhibitions about New Zealand's past, how the country has developed over hundreds and thousands of years, where its people come from, ... You can wander around a Marae, the traditional meeting house of the Maori and for an extra fee you can watch a cultural performance.

Another must expecially if you have children is Kelly Tarlton's Arctic Encounter and Underwater World. You not only learn a lot about NZ sealife. There is an actual Arctic Station where you can hop on a snow mobile ride and watch all sorts of penguins up close. Or why not watch the sharks and stingrays being fed? An interactive area makes this a great experience for little (and big) adventurers.

Aucklands most famous landmark is the Skytower. You can go up to the top for pictures (haven't that this time), do a 360 degree walk on the outer ring of the tower or bungee jump to the bottom. Which one would you prefer?

The city also has some very nice parks. I spent a few hours in Albert Park near the university buildings just reading a book and enjoying the sun. However, in the end Auckland is just another big city that offers party, adventure and sights on the one hand but on the other hand lacks the beauty of areas like the Northland with its green hills and mountaintops... It's nice to have been there and experience the flair of the city. But I am glad to be back on the farm where things a a lot more peaceful and quiet :-)

You'll find more pictures from Auckland on Facebook.

Homework? What is that?

on October 26, 2010

After a long weekend (yesterday was Labor Day) the kids were back to school and kindy today. Usually for Eliza she gets a bunch of homework on Monday that is due back at school on Friday so she has a few days to complete it. Plus there is a book or a short story to read and some spelling to practice every day. But there usually isn't any homework during the weekend. So I found this little conversation we had this morning just before we were about to leave quite funny...

Mara: "Eliza, do you have everything you need for school in your bag?"

Eliza: "Yes."

Pia: "Did you get your praisebook back over the weekend?" - A praisebook is like a Hausaufgabenbuch in Germany where teacher and parents comment once a week on the student's progress, behavior, ...

Eliza: "No, I didn't. But we got some homework."

Pia and I: "Homework? Over the weekend?"

Eliza (happily nodding): "Yes. Some reading and spelling words"

I: "Why didn't you tell us?"

Eliza: "Oh, I forgot."


on October 25, 2010

It's Labour Day Weekend and finally summer seems to have found New Zealand. I spent most of the time outside enjoying the sun and a clear blue sky. Saturday a friend took me out on his boat with a few buddies and we headed to Whangarei Heads. The guys went diving while the rest of us stretched lazily on deck, getting a tan and going for a swim in the still cold but refreshing water. I even got a go at the wheel AND I went fishing - for the very first time in my life. Even caught something!!!

My Friend was laughing and making fun of me saying what a shame to take a picture with this tiny little thing. He's probably right - but hey, who knows if I'll ever go fishing again let along catch something. So this might have been a once-in-a-lifetime-chance *heehee* Anyway... we released the poor little fellow back into the sea after he had posed so nicely for the camera.

The most impressive thing that day was - once again - the landscape.

I just can't get enough of this country no matter where I go. The sea is soooo clean and a clear blue you think you can almost see the bottom. There were hundreds of birds - seagulls and another native NZ bird I've forgotten the name of. And there were litttle penguins just floating on the water. It was so cute. And then the hills, majestic and covered with trees that have such an intense green color... I know this sounds cheesy but I could have cried so happy was I just being there. How could anyone ever want to leave this place!?!

For dinner we had scollops the guys had caught - had some raw ones on the boat, didn't know you could eat them like that but they were soooo yummy! Sunday I went to the beach with some girls and we just let our souls and bodies rest in the sun. The beach (Pataua South) was surrounded by a nice scenery but we didn't feel like going swimming there. Too many sharp shells all over the place, little crabs and seastars...

Turned out we weren't actually on the right beach ;-/ Took a wrong turn somewhere and missed the right spot by maybe 200 meters. What a shame!!! Will go back though cos the beach IS supposed to be a lovely one.

Thursday I'm going to Auckland for a Leonard Cohen concert =D I'll be staying at a girl's place that I've only met a few days ago. It's amazing this network of Au Pairs. Somehow we're all connected and someone always knows someone else that you know, too. Friday I met four Au Pairs from Auckland - I'd spoken to one of them on Facebook for a while. Now they were in the area and we had a greaeat night out in Whangarei. I bought another bag at the Night Markets and we had some yummy food at a place called "The Fat Camel". Looking forward to meeting the girls again in Auckland later this week =D

Happy Birthday, Eliza =D

on October 22, 2010

Today was a very special day - because a very special girl was celebrating her birthday. Eliza turned 7 and had invited heaps of kids. For lack of space (and to safe the house from being turned upside down) the party was relocated to the Whangarei Gliding Club which is just next door. Pia had bought lots of party food hoping to satisfy the needs and fill the tummies of 19 children (!!!). There were chicken nuggets, sausage rolls, marshmellows, chippies, lollies, ... and cupcakes which the kids could decorate themselves as a highlight.

It's unbelievable how much noise 19 kids can make *lol* But as long as there was food on the table they were happy as can be. I remember my birthday parties in the little tiny appartment where me, my mom and my brother were living in when I was young. Sometimes it was so hard to think of something to entertain everybody. We usually ended up playing blind man's bluff or hit the pot.

But here there is so much space and the kids can just run around and explore - as long as they are not touching hot wires or possum traps... no need to worry they might break something or get bored too easily. They all had heaps of fun and I think the cupcakes really were the highlight of the day for many of them :-)

Lukas wasn't too happy though because Eliza kept getting all those fantastic presents ;-( He still needs to wait 15 more weeks (we count in Sunday dinners because it's still hard for him to understand the concept of time) until he finally turns five, gets lots and lots of presents - and starts school!!! Yep, over here you start school at the age of 5.

So while in Germany being 7 years old usually means you're about to start school or have just recently done so depending on when you're born Eliza has already gone to school, learnt her ABC and numbers for two whole years! Amazing... And she's getting so much better at reading, can can count to 100 and above, does easy multiplication... it's neat to see her making progress in different areas :-)

I am not Bear Grylls

on October 15, 2010

There is a polular show over here on TV hosted by Bear Grylls, the youngest Briton who ever climbed Mount Everest when he was only 23. The TV show is about is numerous expeditions through the wilderness in any possible place on earth. He gives advice on how to behave, how to survive and does the most extreme stuff out there.

Well, I'm a city girl - and in no way fit for the wilderness at all. As I had once again to acknowledge when Pia und Philip took me and three other guests staying at the farm on a "hike" to the waterfall that's on one of the paddocks. I had no idea at all what I was getting myself into. I knew it was not going to be a relaxing walk through the grass - but neither had I expected to have to balance over slippery stones to cross a river, getting wet and muddy all the way up to my knees, almost crawling through the forest, climbing uphill...

Of course I was neither wearing appropriate footwear nor the right jacket oder clothes at all to go on an adventure like this. I was worried sick about my camera getting soaked that was dangling from my shoulder, my feet were aching from the sharp stones I kept stepping on. Most of the time I had no idea where to step next because I couldn't see the ground anymore.

Let's face it - I'm a wimp. At some point I was close to breaking down. I sent my boots flying along the river not giving a damn about anything anymore. I was ready to sit down where I was and wait for a helicopter to pick me up again. Sounds pretty lame, doesn't it? If it wasn't for Pia who stayed with me and gave me a hand every now and then I probably would have done just that.

But - in the end I made it. All the way to the waterfall. And looking back (at the time I was there I was too mad at the world to appreciate anything) it was definitely worth the "hike". Or what do you think?

Now that I know what I'm getting into I might actually do it again. But just maybe... Wanna see more pictures of the Falls and the farm? Follow this link to Facebook :-)

I won't miss you...

on October 14, 2010

Lukas is full of surprises and though he can be quite a troublemaker sometimes he's somehow the cutest four-year-old I've ever met. Lately he's been talking a lot about his last au pair Marie - also from Germany - and that he misses her. So I asked him today whether he'll miss me when I'm gone. His answer came straight away: NO!

*Humpf* was all I thought at first, but when I asked him why, I was really touched: I won't miss you Mara, because you're coming back. That's what the little boy said. For my birthday he's going to give me a biiiiiiiig present (because I told him if I don't like my present I'll leave early) - it's going to be a bike as big as the house all the way up to the sky. So that I can fly to Germany and then back to New Zealand whenever I wanted to. Also I wouldn't have to pay that much with that bike.

Oh, and while I'm in Germany I have to buy some soccer shoes for him and Eliza. In the right size of course - size 4 for Lukas and size 7 for Eliza. Because she'll be seven soon. And then I am to come back to New Zealand to give the shoes to him and his sister.

I don't know what else to say to this. I'm speechless =D


on October 09, 2010

Being a soccer fan and player myself I was so happy when Vicky asked me to join her on a trip to Auckland with her host family to see New Zealand's national team (called the ALL WHITES) play live at the stadium. The opponent was going to be Honduras and even though none of them are "big players" on an international level I thought it would be quite interesting to see just how teams in the southern hemisphere act on the field. And I was in for a few surprises.

First of all the stadium was rather small. Compared to German/European standards at least. 18.000 tickets were sold - I don't think the stadium would have fit more than 20.000 people anyway.

Second - there was barely any security! You could walk all the way down to the fence and in fact just open the gate and walk right onto the field. Well, I guess you weren't supposed to do that. But you could have, since the gate was not locked and were no more than ten security guards all along the fence.

We had really good seats and both of the teams were seated only a few meters away from us. The game itself was interesting - but frustrating, too. New Zealand had so many chances. They just couldn't bring the ball into the net. I was so reminded of my team back home (no offence girls, I know you're having a hard time right now).

They finally did score in the very last minute (second?) of the first half. Honduras managed to even out during the second half. For some reason both teams were allowed to substitute more than three times. I know it was a friendly game. But I did think certain rules applied anyway. Maybe not down here *lol*

New Zealand had the biggest chance to turn the game into a victory when they got a penalty kick - once again at the very last minute. But to the disbelief of all the 18.000 people THEY MESSED IT UP!

Yet it had been worth watching and the best thing happened after the game was over. Something that I don't think would ever be possible seems to be normal in New Zealand. For all the All White players came to the fence to shake hands with their fans, give autographs AND even have their pictures taken. Unbelievable! I got a few signatures, too. Even that of the president :-) What a nice souvenir!

There are a few more pictures of the game on Facebook.

Exploring the Northland - Just me, myself and I

on October 06, 2010

Last weekend I spontaneously decided to go on a trip. The last bigger one has been a while. Wasn't sure yet though where to go so I found some Couchsurfers in the Northland region, texted two of them and thought - if one is answering me on such short notice, this is where I'm going to. Took only an hour until Graham told me he'd host me. He lived on Karikari Peninsula about half an hour northeast of Kaitaia so I took my Lonely Planet and wrote myself a trip itinerary.

Since I spend the night at Gritje's place who lives close to Highway 14 that leads to Dargaville this is where I was starting at. My first stop was Baylys Beach on the West Coast.

According to the Lonely Planet it belongs to Ripiro Ocean Beach which stretches along the West Coast for as much as 100 kilometers. It's a nice spot, there were some people on horseback enjoying the sand and others on motorbikes. You can also drive along the beach in your car but should only do so if you have a 4WD. So I stayed at the edge where the road just ended and the sand was still hard and firm. It's said to be New Zealand's longest drivable beach and there are supposed to be many shipwrecks just off the coast.

Maybe half an hour north along Highway 12 are three freshwater lakes called Kai Iwi Lakes.

It didn't look as nice as the guidebooks said when I was there but then it's not summer yet. It might also have looked a little rough because there was a lot of construction work going on. A lot of the pine trees along the shore had been taken down probably because they were too old and about to fall down. Also for that reason the campsite at Lake Taharoa, the biggest of the three, is closed until further notice.

Leaving the lakes going further north I eventually entered Waipoua Forest. It houses some of the oldest and largest Kauri trees in New Zealand. The road winds through the forest for about 18 kilometers - most of the time you can't go faster than 30 or 40 kilometers an hour because it is so steep and windy that everything above that would throw you off the edge.

There are a lot of walks you can do in the forest and signs will lead you off the Highway to any of them. The shortest I did was to see Tane Mahuta - the Giant Kauri.

It might not look like it because the picture lacks another object to compare sizes... But this tree is more than 50 meters high and the trunk's girth more than 13 meters. Yet, the most impressive fact of Tane Mahuta (The Lord of the Forest): It is probably more than 2000 years old!!! That makes it the oldest Kauri tree in NZ.

This giant stands at the northern end of Waipoua Forest. Further south is a lookout and a carpark from where several other walks lead, such as the Four Sisters - four giant Kauri trees grown rogether at the bottom - or Te Matua Ngahere (The Father of the Forest), the widest living Kauri.

You can also stop at Trounson Kauri Park just half an hour inland from the Highway. There is an easy half-hour loop walk starting from the car park that leads you through the forest. I even saw a wetter there - one of New Zealand's ancient bugs. They are quite huge, look a bit like a long-legged spider with antlers... NASTY!!! Wouldn't want to come across those in the wild...

After tiring myself out with all those walks I kept going north to Hokianga Harbor. At Opononi I saw this huge sand island (or was it just the other side of the harbor?)...

Later I was told by my host family that you can do all kinds of fun stuff over there: sandboarding (which I've done in Australia and absolutely enjoyed!), hire a quad, ... So I will definitely go back there later on.

In Rawene, a cute little seaside town, I took the ferry over to Kohukohu which cost me 16 dollars but saved me lots of driving time and petrol. Via Highway 1 I made my way up north via Kaitaia to Karikari Peninsula. To some of you that might sound familiar - that's where those 60 and more whales stranded just a few weeks ago ;-(

Finally arrived at my couchsurfer's place who took me to a family BBQ. Turned out to be what we called a "United Nations Barbeque" cos there were so many nationalities present! Besides me there was another German couchsurfer and two German girls woofing, two Czech couchsurfers, lots of Maoris, one "true" Kiwi, one with Irish ancestors, one Samoan and a little boy who was half Australian. What a mix =D

Sunday started rather lazy as we all didn't get much sleep. Were eating and drinking and talking until sometime in the morning *lol* The boys were thinking about going to Cape Reinga or collect some mussels at a nearby beach. I was happy to join them no matter what - but they just couldn't make up their minds! And I'm still too much German to just sit around and "go with the flow". Besides I had to be back in Whangarei in the evening and didn't want to waste my time just hanging around doing nothing. So eventually I took off again on my own.

Stopping at a few beaches I made my way back home along the East Coast.

This beautiful beach is called Cable Bay and belongs to Doubtless Bay - a popular spot for boat trips, fishing, diving, dolphin sightings...

In Kerikeri I stopped at the town basin and visited Rewa's Village.

It's the replica of a Pre-European Maori Fishing Village that also houses the Discoverers Garden with lots of indigenous plants. There is a 5 dollar entrance fee which is alright I guess. You get to watch a 12 minute video first that tells you about the early English settlements in the region and the interactions between Pakeha (White people) and Maori.

My last stop before heading home and getting ready for our weekly Sunday dinner was Kawakawa. There's nothing really there as it's just another small town. However, they do have one thing that's worth visiting - a TOILET!!!

Art fans among you might have recognised the typical design. And yes, you are right. The public toilets in Kawakawa are made by Friedensreich (Friedrich) Hundertwasser! In 1997 the Austrian architect was asked to design and build those. Since he'd been working on projects in New Zealand before of course he didn't say no to this one either.

By the way - did you know Hundertwasser became a Kiwi (a New Zealand citizen) in 1986? He's also buried in New Zealand - somewhere near Kawakawa where he had purchased a farm. The toilets were one of his last projects to finish.

You'll find more pictures of my trip on Facebook.

YIKES! - When your cookie comes alive

on October 05, 2010

Last night I was enjoying some cookies - until I came to the last one in the plastic box. I'd already eaten half of it when for some reason I turned it around - JUST TO FIND A COCKROACH UNDERNEATH!!!

The cookie went flying across the room and it's a miracle no one woke up from my screams. Took me a couple minutes to leave the state of shock and disgust.

I'm going to send a letter to the company selling those cookies because I surely didn't pay for that extra portion of protein...