The weather of Norhtland, New Zealand over the last month has been crazy to say the least. One hour, you have crystal clear blue skies followed by a crazy rain storm then you’ll get a glimpse of an amazing rainbow and even more spectacular sunset. And that’s what we have been experiencing for the last few days, when cyclone Hola made an appearance. Some crazy wind and rain that rivaled any hurricane we experienced living in Florida.
As soon as the cyclone passed through Northland, we all had cabin fever and were ready for some outdoor adventure. We drove to Tauranga Bay and chose to do a 7 km hike along the coast. Boy oh boy, this hike was the most picturesque and beautiful we have ever done. Extremely green hills (due to tons of rain), turquoise water, dramatic cliffs and the freshest air on this planet - that is just a part of our experience. I really cannot put into words what we saw that day…I took million of pictures but once again, they do not do the justice. We all got sunburnt that day since we forgot our lotion, but it doesn't matter. It was a true slice of paradise, another magical surprise of mother nature and this unreal beautiful country. If it was our last hike of this trip, it’ll definitely be one of the most memorable.
One day after dropping the kids off at school, we decided to take a drive back to Matai Bay and enjoy an absolutely beautiful day on the beach. This beach has been our favorite and it made it even special because we were the only people there, so lucky! We simply relaxed and took in the spectacular scenery, for the very last time (tear in my eyes). This place is really magical and we were able to turn our minds off and simple breath the purest air this planet has to offer. Living in the present moment has never been easier…
Our lovely hosts invited us over for a dinner. They are such an amazing people, so generous, friendly and hospitable - we could not thank them enough for everything they have done for us. While Pete was making magic in the kitchen, Cecilia gave us a tour of their beautiful home. Pete built it with two helpers a few years ago and probably, it was the nicest home we have ever been to. Leo and Mila had a ball running around and playing with their two adorable dogs. We shared a heavenly meal, talked, laughed and simply enjoyed each others company. Pete and Cecilia prepared a true feast! Once again we were assured that it’s the people who make this journey unforgettable…and for that, we will be forever grateful :) It’s quite difficult to grasp that our time in New Zealand is coming to an end…11 months have gone way too fast, we have seen and done a lot but still there is a part of us that desires to see more and explore more.
Friday was last day of school for Leo and Mila. They had such an amazing time at the preschool, made so many new friends and bonded with the teachers. We went to pick them up a little earlier than usual and also brought a chocolate cake for the staff. Leo refused to go home in our car and lined up for the bus, haha. The teachers made a lovely card for each of them, where they also wrote special messages. They also received a picture book showing how both Leo and Mila enjoyed the school, played and made projects. Such a wonderful and thoughtful memory for them to have…We are so grateful that the director of the day care allowed them to be a part of their school for one month. We said goodbyes to our friends from the gym, exchanged contact information and I am sure we will keep in touch. In the evening, our host Cecilia came over with a bottle of wine and some souvenirs, how sweet! She and Pete brought for Leo and Mila some toys to play with on the airplane, and Rick and I received a New Zealand stone neckless - beautiful and so thoughtful, we are really going to miss this little community from Hihi. Amazing how one month flew by…I am sure that we will come back here one day for now, we are leaving piece of our heart here…
Saturday morning we cleaned up the place, finished packing, gave one last hug to Pete and Cecilia, and hit the road. The weather was beautiful so we decided to make a stop in Kerikeri and visited a local market. The Old Packhouse Market was so cool. It was a mix between arts pieces, fresh produce, clothes and food. We walked for a bit, grabbed a bite to eat and walked across the street to a chocolate factory, yummy! Kids enjoyed some sweets and the adults sipped on some coffee. From there we drove straight to Auckland where we rented a house for 3 nights. The place was very nice and spacious but we still have not gotten over the fact that we had to leave the gorgeous place in Hihi.
The next few days we spent on organizing our belongings, selling our car and exploring the city. Auckland seems like a really cool place. One third of New Zealand population lives here. We strolled through the central part of the city, enjoyed a delicious lunch and fully embraced our last moments in this magical country.
This is it…I can’t believe I am writing this…After 3 months in New Zealand it is time to say goodbye to this magical country and move on…I really don't know how to explain what we are feeling right now. Happy, sad, excited, scared, grateful, anxious…just to name a few. It’s definitely a bittersweet moment. There is nothing that will ever explain what we have seen and done over the last year. The memories we created will stay with us forever and I only hope that this is just the first chapter of our continued travel adventures. We have encountered so many amazing people, visited the most beautiful spots on this planet and forever grew strong family bond. This world journey changed everything inside of us. We see and value things that were invisible or rather unnoticed before. We contemplated many options for our next stop; Fiji, Hawaii, Japan, Chile, Canada? Ultimately we chose to go back to Europe and see my family. This trip started with family, so its fitting we are going to end it with family and begin planning our next steps. So for the next few weeks we will be in Poland and Germany catching up with our European peeps, yay!
Someone asked us what we have learned during this world adventure. Kinda silly question if you ask me because there is not enough hours in a day for me to explain it all. So let me tell you one thing that comes to my mind instantly - don’t be afraid to live your dreams. What I have learned is the fact that time is passing by way too fast and there is nothing more scary than waiting. During this year long journey, we experienced so many different emotions and there were times when we wanted to go back to our comfortable lifestyle of West Palm Beach, but every time we hit a bit of adversity, we would have the most amazing day or experience right in front of us. Looking back, I think we were out of our minds for thinking that, but luckily we always pulled through and kept going. We gave up pretty much everything we had back home and went after our dream. It was like an opportunity cost (I guess I learnt something in Economics class back in college and was able to apply it to the real life, ha) - sell the car and buy an airplane ticket, solid employment to fund the trip, leave the comforts of life in Florida and explore the beauty of this world; we gave up something in order to gain something else. We had a dream and made it happen. It was not alway cupcakes and rainbows but reading our blog posts I have a tear in my eye and can’t wait to one day do it all over again (I just need to win a powerball!) So have dreams, work hard and smart and make it happen. Never ask why but rather why not and live your life to the fullest (side note: I am reading this to Rick now and we are both crying, hahaha, dorks). We are sitting right now in our Airbnb rental in Auckland, drinking wine and packing our belongings…in the background there is Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye”…So Goodbye to all of you! Thank you for following us and being part of our world adventure. Hopefully you enjoyed our journey and learned something new about this amazing world, love to all and until next time!
Oh and one more thing. . . the blog will go on, but our focus will change, we look forward to building a network of travel companions and helping people plan their perfect Holiday. More to come so don’t leave us!!!
Rick’s parents have arrived! They arrived here safe and sound after a very long 35 hour journey from Pennsylvania. Leo and Mila were so excited to see them and it has been nice to have family around. My in-laws were pretty tired so after dinner, we all went to bed super early. All of us slept very well and we were ready to show them around. The next day, we drove to Maitai Bay and spent a few hours sunbathing on this piece of paradise. On the way back, we stopped at KariKari Estate winery. This place was spectacular. Located on a hill overlooking mountains and the Pacific ocean, just a pure bliss. We did a quick wine tasting, which was ok, and then grabbed a table, ordered some food and wine and admired this breath taking scenery. Leo and Mila received coloring papers and crayons and were super busy. It was such a lovely afternoon, something that was needed, especially for our guests from America.
The following day Leo and Mile went to school, Rick and I hit the gym, and my in laws went for a walk along our local beaches. That day we all took it easy since Mila and Leo started to come down with something. We have been super lucky because during our 10 months of travel, none of us have gotten sick. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Leo and Mila join day care they started to get ill. They both had a mild temperatures and passed onto me. The next day, I am not sure why, but we decided to drive 2.5 hours to Waipahu Forest to see the biggest tree in New Zealand - Tane Mahuta. When we got there, we literally took 30 steps and the tree was there…so we took a long car trip to see a giant tree - something that the Grizzwalds would do, haha. The tree was impressive but definitely not worth this long drive. Also, the weather cooled off a bit, it was raining so we could not do too much that day. We stopped at some viewing points but since Leo was still running a fever, we chose to return to the house. He was so tired, it was odd for us because we have not seen him so ill in a very long time. Thank goodness, his conditions improved overnight, and even though we did not send him to school, he finally had no fever, was eating and being a normal crazy Leo. Rick took Mila and his parents to see a Rainbow waterfalls and do a short hike, while Leo and I stayed home and rested.
And it’s raining again, by raining I mean pouring! Now we know why New Zealand is so lush and green, it had rained a lot over the last 2 weeks. So today, we have hung out in the house, did another puzzle, drank wine and chit chatted. On Sunday, we drove to KeriKeri and despise the nasty weather, we walked around the Farmer’s Market. It’s funny because one of the market stall owners said he could tell we were visitors because as soon as it started to rain hard, we all were hiding underneath the roof, haha. The locals just keep strolling barefoot without being bothered by the rain. On the way back home we made a stop at Cottle Hill Winery and just sipped on some wine - I guess wine is a cure for everything :)
Monday, the clouds parted and we welcomed back the sun, yay! In the morning, we dropped the kids off at the school and took my in laws to Tapou Bay beach. We have not been there yet and it turned out to be a beautiful spot. The water had a gorgeous color and the green hills only added more magic to this spectacular scenery. We all got sunburnt, surprise surprise! In the afternoon, we visited a local butcher and stocked up on some local meats...we definitely had a feast that night, yum yum!
Life has definitely slowed down for us. We really feel as if we lived permanently in New Zealand…kids go to school, we go to the gym, and just fully embrace the local culture. We run into the same people and feel as a part of this wonderful community. The owners of our rental are wonderful too. They keep bringing us fresh grapes, figs and other goodies. The other day Pete - our host gifted us a huge freshly caught red snapper that we grilled for dinner. Most of the evenings we have a chance to witness beautiful sunsets while sipping on wine, not a bad life at all. Even though Northland is a bit isolated, you get a real sense of community here. Its the people who rely on each other that makes the World go round. This slower pace of our journey was just what the doctor ordered.
We also made another drive to the Cape Reinga to see the lighthouse. And guess what, it rained the entire drive! Surprisingly, once we made it to the cape there was literally a small piece of blue skies and this mystical blue & gray color over the open waters. We walked down to the lighthouse and admired the stunning views. I think we made it just in time because as soon as we were leaving it started to rain. We’ve mentioned how windy the New Zealand roads are and they finally got the best of Mila. On the way back she vomited...poor girl : ( Don't worry , as soon as she took a bath she was back to being a crazy and wild bambino :-)
The last day of my in laws visit we booked a half day cruise along the northern islands. That morning Rick woke up super sick and was not able to join us, bummer. We left mid morning and drove to a small port town called Paihia (about 1 hour drive from Hihi). Paihia is a super cute and charming little town on the water, full of boutique shops, restaurants and little cafes. We walked around for a bit, got a bite to eat and at 1:15 boarded our boat. The weather improved significantly and most importantly, it was not raining. We cruised along the islands and finally got off at the Robertson Island. Mila was deep asleep and Leo did not want to leave the boat, so I decided to stay with them while my in laws were able to explore the island for a bit. As they were about to come back on the cruise ship, it started to rain again and needless to say, they got a little wet :) The final attraction of this expedition was seeing the world famous “Hole in the Rock”. At first, the captain was not sure if we would be able to make it there, since the water was too choppy. Luckily, by mid afternoon the conditions improved and we were able to make it all the way there. It was definitely the highlight of this adventure. The rock literally had a hole that looks like a secret passage to another world. It was a fun and intense day, a perfect way to end a visit with my in laws.
It’s hard to believe that their stay came to en end…they were here for 10 days and it literally flew by! Leo and Mila were so happy to see them and spend some precious time together. That day they did not want to go to school but rather drive to the airport with Annie and Papa (instead of the trip to the airport, they were picked up by school bus…Mila was not too happy about that). We are so thankful that that they were able to make it here and see it. It was a long journey for them (about 35 hours) but it was a time well spent. We have only 10 days left in this wonderful country and will live it to the fullest. Not sure what’s next but we wont worry about it yet : )
During our 10 month journey we had only few days where we’ve been completely washed out…pretty lucky, right?! Well, our luck has run dry (or wet)! It has been raining for the last 4 days…I mean like crazy heavy rain that literally stops you for going outside. Our first day in Ohope Beach, we did not mind since we just arrived there and were settling into our new beach front AirBnb rental. We booked a sweet apartment right on the water and what’s even more amazing, the owners have two little boys almost same age as Leo and Mila. They have been playing together the whole time, regardless of the rain. At first, we were a bit disappointed but once we saw how happy Leo and Mila were playing in the rain, it didn’t bother us at all.
The next morning we woke up again to a heavy rain…since we could not do much that day, we drove to a local shop and got a 1000 piece puzzle, haha, yes we are getting old. Leo and Mila ran around with the other two boys and were having a blast, especially while jumping on the trampoline in the middle of the rain. Finally the next day, the rain subsided a bit and we decided to take a drive to a Tarawera Waterfall, located about 1 hour from Ohope. The drive to the waterfall was kinda crazy…for a good 30 km we had to follow a dirt road that looked like it was leading us to nowhere…but we finally reached to track. With all the rain, the waterfall was raging! Probably the most intense one we’ve seen.
Our host are great people…Rick hit it off with Stu - he happens to be an outdoorsman and a beer distributor. Needless to say, Stu stocked our fridge with plenty of suds, so the rain definitely didn’t bother us : ) I had great conversation with Jodie and we shared plenty of mom stories. This morning, they gave us two pieces of a fresh blue fin tuna - caught in the local waters! That evening, they set up a fire pit and we were able to smoke the tuna, yum yum! We enjoyed each others company over beers and had dinner together in their house. It was such a lovely gesture. The dinner was delicious, fresh tuna stakes, corn salas, salad, bread and wine, pure perfection! We enjoyed each other company to the fullest. Kids were running around and just having a ball. While the rain continued into the evening, the company of our hosts made us forget about the current weather conditions. Once again we are reminded that it is the people we meet that make this trip special…
Happy Valentines Day everyone! Since it was a day of spreading the love, we decided to hike a local mountain - Mt Maunganui. What could be more romantic?! We drove about 1 hour to a town called Tauranga, where the mountain was located. This “hill” stands right on the coastline of Central New Zealand and measures 232 meters. The weather finally improved and we even saw some sunshine, yay! The hike was beautiful! As soon as we got closer to the top, we were able to see the gorgeous beaches and some stunning scenery. There were quite a lot of people following our valentine day idea and it felt truly amazing to see so many happy, fit and dedicated peeps up there. The most impressive was this 70 year old gentleman who ran up and down the mountain 3 times!!!! (the path way to the top is about 2km long). We talked to him at the base and he is an ironman! More like iron grandpa in unreal shape : ) We also stumbled upon a paraglider and were able to witness his takeoff and landing - it was so cool! He just hopped off the hill and went flying up to the sky - love gave him wings! We absolutely loved this hike and wish we were able to do it again :) Once we got to the bottom, we walked between sheep and then along the beach - what a cool day and a perfect way to spend valentines day. We finished the hike with a delicious ice cream - we had to replenish the calorie intake :) It was definitely our favorite day in this region. Rain stopped us from exploring more but hey, at least it was not freezing cold!
The next morning right after breakfast we hit the road towards our last destination in New Zealand, a little town called Hihi located on Doubtless Bay in Northland. It was a looooong road trip, almost 10 hours but we made it! Kids were amazing and pretty much behaved the whole time. We made several stop along the way, one big one in town called KeriKeri where we stock up on groceries since the closest grocery store is about 45 min away from Hihi. We arrived pretty late, about 9 pm but were completely blown away by our AirBnb one month rental! This property is located on 15 acres right on the water and it simply stunning! Our house is simply perfect - cozy 3 bedroom with an open floor plan and amazing views. We were all super tired but somehow managed to stay up till midnight :) I guess we were waiting for this moment for a very long time…
The next morning, the owners of the house came to visit us and say hello. Ms Cecilia and her husband Peter are extremely nice and lovely couple. We talked for a good hour and got to know each other a little. After lunch we drove to a local town called Mangouni, where we enrolled Leo and Mila at a daycare! First of all, this place is beautiful! Right on the ocean with turquoise water and super green hills. The overall vibe of this Holiday town is so chill and relaxed, we immediately felt right at home. The day care seems wonderful. While Leo and Mila played, the manager gave us a tour and explained a little about the day to day operations. All children between 1 - 5 years old are together. They split them up into age appropriate groups during story time and other classroom activities, but for the most part, they are all together playing and having a blast. We were also informed that the school van will be picking up the kids from their homes…of course the teacher is always on the bus but still, that is something completely new to us :) The school also provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for the childREN. Parents are responsible to prepare the lunch on Fridays. For now, Leo and Mila will attend the school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 am till 3:30pm. And here is the best part - guess how much it costs us…nothing! The schools in New Zealand are free! Even the day care, how wonderful is that. Both Leo and Mila had so much fun playing today and Mila threw a tantrum as we were leaving, go figure! We also signed up for a local gym! We plan on going there while kids are at school (it’s only 400 meters down the road from the day care). I must admit that settling down a bit feels amazing! Leo and Mila keep running outside all the time and love having so much space here. Plus the weather has been perfect, in upper 70’s with some strong sun, but we wont complain about that :)
Life has definitely slowed down for us. We are fully enjoying our gorgeous house and its property. Each morning we sip our coffee on the patio and listen to the birds. At night, once Leo and Mila hit the bed, we enjoy a glass of wine and watch the starts from the deck - I know that it sounds a bit cheesy but thats our current life :) We visited a farmers market that happens each Saturday and bought some of the local goodies. We also made it to a gym and had a good intense workout, while the kids play in the kids room. We are trying to take it all in and use this time to figure out what’s next. We also bought a puzzle at the flea market which is a perfect mind distraction :) The owner of the house brought plenty of toys for Leo and Mila, which was really nice. It really feels like being home…
On Sunday afternoon we drove to the Coopers Beach and watched Leo and Mila run around like crazy bambinos! Leo met some local girl and played with her the whole time. Mila felt complete free as she run butt naked along the beach :) Tomorrow is first official day of school…we will be there for few hours to ease them in and help the adjustment. It’s something completely new for us. The last 10 months we spent being together all day and night, and as nice as it sounds, it’s kinda hard let Leo and Mila go to school and lose that exclusive closeness but I guess that’s the part of the process…
Monday was officially Leo and Mila's first day of school…I was so worried about these kids but they absolutely loved the new day care! I stayed with them for the first hour (from 9-10) but then joined rick at the gym. We seriously did not know what to do with ourselves all afternoon, hahaha. The four of us have been together for the last 10 months and this is literally the first time when we had no kids and no plans…we decided to get the kids earlier, around 1:30 since it was their first day. When we arrived, they refused to go home, can you believe that? They either love the school or are sick of us hahaha, maybe both :) We are so happy that they adapted so quickly and love being around other children, teachers, and fit right in into a new setting.
Early Childhood Education is a little different from what we were used to. For example, they do not teach the children reading or writing. Yes, they have story time and the teachers read books to them but there is no such a thing as sitting down and learning how to write letters. The teachers explained to us that the kindergarten and elementary school is design for that, not a child care for kids 1-5 years old. The outdoor playground area is amazing, there are few slides, swings, climbing ropes, water pool, sand box, outdoor kitchen, garden where the kids work at, the fence is used as an art activity and the kids are allowed to paint it. They also teach the kids how to ride the bikes and encourage any type of creativity. I guess I understand now why Leo and Mila did not want to come home :) The other day Leo took the school bus home and I have never seen him more excited! It’s a small mini van with car seats and booster seats, one teacher is the driver and the other one arranges and watches after the kids. Next week we will also try to give Mila that experience and see how she does :)
Little by little we have been exploring the Northland region of New Zealand. It’s absolutely sunning here. The weather is sub tropical so it’s pretty hot right now. Winters are very mild & wet so it’s green all year long. We visited couple local beaches and so far our favorite is the Maitai Bay in KariKari Peninsula. What a gorgeous paradise! The water is so blue and so clear you can literally see everything on the bottom. We enjoyed this little slice of heaven until the rain surprised us - that’s another thing about New Zealand…the weather can change drastically, just depends on the wind. The other day we experienced a two hour cyclone that could easily be considered a category one hurricane. After two hours of complete madness the sun came up and you could never tell it rained earlier on. We witnessed so many breath taking sunrises and sunsets, ah, life is pretty good right now and we wish we could stay here forever!
We also managed to make a few friends. First of all, people of New Zealand are extremely friendly and very open. Our owners brought us the other day home made peach kumbucha (which we drank in one setting) and we invited them over for a dinner one night. It was a lovely time spent on getting to know them better, we learned a lot about the local culture, customs and just New Zealand life in general. We also met at the gym a super nice retired gentleman from Wyoming, who is here on a 3 months vacation with his wife. One day after the gym session they invited us for a coffee and snacks. Once again, we had a fun time together and will meet them again in the coming weeks. We have only been in Hihi for one week and already feel like a part of this wonderful and welcoming community. Leo and Mila are so happy here and just love running around and being free. It really is just those little things that make a living super special and meaningful…
The next day, we made a two+ hour drive to Cape Reigna. The drive was stunning but once we got to the cape itself, we were greeted by a beautiful white lighthouse separating the Pacific Ocean from the Tasman Sea. The views were breathtaking, dramatic cliffs, white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters - a true heaven for your eyes. We also spent half of that day sun bathing on the Spirits Bay Beach. We were surrounded by gorgeous green hills and mesmerizing blue waters, if felt as if Ireland met with Thailand and decided to create this slice of paradise in New Zealand.
Tomorrow Rick’s parents are arriving in Auckland! They will be spending two weeks with us and exploring this amazing country. We have not seen them since early May and both Leo and Mila are super excited to have a little family reunion. So for now we gotta go, clean the house, prepare some delicious food and wait for their arrival!
This week we are spending in the city of Hamilton right smack in the middle of the Central North Island. Our first day took us to the Waitomo Caves, located about 1 hour away from our current rental. They were formed by underground streams carving out apertures through the limestone rock. The night before we research all of the tours and decided to do the Aranui Cave and the Glowworm Caves. Since this attraction is pretty popular among tourist and locals, when we got there it was pretty crowded. We took the tour of the Aranui Caves which were spectacular. There is an interesting story associated with this cave - in 1910 a man named Ruruku Aranui was spending a day out hunting. At one point his dog started to chase a pig…Aranui followed his pet and shortly after found him and the pig inside of a unknown cave. It was a very impressive cave with gorgeous pink, white and brown stalactites and stalagmites. Leo and Mila were hoping to find trolls there, hahaha!
Our second tour took us to the Glowworm Cave, which is probably the most popular one. The main attraction of this place were the glowworms attached to the limestone. The tour guide used minimal lights and once he turned them off, we were able to see thousands of glowworm above us - so beautiful and mysterious! The best part of this adventure was a short boat ride leading through the cave. The challenge here was a complete silence and I will happily admit that the four of us managed to stay quite for almost the whole excursion! Towards the end, as we started to approach the exit of the cave Mila started to scream that there was an alligator in the water and he was going to snap snap our hands…her comment definitely lightened everyones’ mood up, haha!
The last part of that day was the Marokopa Waterfall, located about 30 km away from he caves. Originally we were planning on going there and hanging out for a bit at the water, but during the car ride both Leo and Mila passed out…In that case, only Rick walked over and enjoyed this magnificent waterfall…one of the best he’s seen. The ride back home felt like forever! We chose to take an alternate rout and let me tell you, its a miracle none of us threw up. It was probably one of the windiest road we have ever driven but the view made up for the motion sickness!
The weather forecast indicated that Tuesday was supposed to be the nicest day during the entire week. No brainer here, we chose to head to New Zealand’s surf capital - Raglan. We drove about 30 minutes to Manu Bay, which is considered surfers paradise because of perfectly left bank breaking waves. I must admit, I got very jealous when I saw the surfers catching some waves but honestly, the waves were pretty weak. I guess the scenery makes up for the surfing conditions since the whole bay is surrounded by mountains and green valleys. Water was freezing! We did not swim at all, haha! Even sunbathing was out of the questions because there was a bit of chill in the air. Nevertheless, it was pretty cool to watch the surfers and I cannot wait to sign up for surfing classes at our next stop. We also visited Bridal Viel waterfall, one of the largest dropping falls in NZ.
I need to brag a little about Leo - he is the perfect older brother. He has so much compassion and love for Mila. The other day she was crying in the car because she wanted to hold my hand…since I was driving, I could not make it happen. Without hesitation Leo offered to hold her hand and started to sing a polish lullaby to calm her down, so sweet! He always thinks about her and each time he gets a piece of candy, he makes sure to grab an extra one for her. She is a little bossy and very often misbehaves but he always has her back. It’s so neat to watch them play together and strengthen their sibling bond :)
Today was a very special day because it's our Papito Hermie's birthday! It was a fun and very intense day that ended with a little celebration. In the morning we drove 1.5h to a town called Rotorua. It's a very popular place due to its hot springs ( that we did not get to visit, dang!). Our first stop was made at the Blue Lake Reserve. We did a 6 km hike around the lakes. It was so funny because every during our trek we met some Maori's forest workers who were having lunch. Leo was walking by and staring at their food so they offered him a grilled beef and cheese sandwich hahaha. We either look homeless and hungry or just have special skill of attracting super generous people. At one point during the hike we came up to a hill from where we were able to see both lakes, the Blue and Green Lake. It was an Ok view...honestly, the information and pictures in the brochure blew our minds but the reality was a bit different...I guess it was a mini family nature walk.
Right from there we headed over to the Red Woods Park - as the name says, red wood forest with trees planted over 100 years ago. Those trees were huge and simply beautiful. We purchased tickets and did the suspension bridges walk - part of these trees were connected by 20 suspension bridges and you could walk through and enjoy some stunning views. Mila was in heaven, she kept running and jumping ( you are not allowed to do that on the bridge but of course she is not very obedient). We were supposed to stop at one of the local geysers, but both Leo and Mila felt asleep during the car ride so we called it a day and drove back home.
It was time to celebrate Hermie's birthday! Here is what I love about staying at AirBnbs - we are currently tending a cottage, right next to the house of our hosts. Upon our arrival, I mentioned something about Hermie's bday but never paid much attention to it. Here our hosts remembered and they baked a delicious banana chocolate cake! How sweet is that!? I also made a chocolate chip cookie cake and we invited our hosts for the celebration. It was so lovely to talk to them, get to know them a little better and just spent some time together. Believe me, you won't get that type of experience and treatment at any restaurant out there!
Whenever you are in New Zealand on the North Island, you have to make a visit to the Hobbiton movie set. Usually Rick plans all our activities but this one was on me and I did not prepare for it at all. After breakfast, we packed the car and drove to Matamata where the movie set is located. As soon as you get off the main road you are driving on 1200 acres of a farmland that looks like a fairytale. Obviously, in order to see the Hobbiton you need to book a tour - how was I supposed to know that (check the website - duh!)!? Once we arrived there we were informed that all of the tours for today were sold out, well that's a problem (apparently not for me, haha). At first I was mad but I just had this gut feeling that somehow we were going to get in there. I walked over to the lady at the ticket counter and once again asked if she was sure about the tickets being sold out and she confirmed. But, she said that sometimes people cancel or they have no shows and told us to come back in 10 minutes. Surprise surprise! There were four tickets available, hurray! We paid $160 for the two of us and kids were free. The lady also told us that the tour bus leaves in 10 minutes so be there on time. Since our backpack was in the car, Rick went to get it and Mila managed to poop, so she needed a change. We thought we were aware of the time but apparently, the bus left without us, hahaha! I swear, the more we travel the worse we get : ) Luckily, the parking lot was super busy and the bus had to make one more round, see, there is always a bright side :) After 5 minutes we were on the bus and walking into a fairytale land. Believe me, this place was probably one of the most magical in the whole world. Everything looked just like on the movie….the attention to detail was out of this world. Leo and Mila had a blast running around and touching literally everything, haha. They thought the whole set was a playground and I don't blame them one bit. The tour lasted about 2 hrs. We took tons of pictures but each time we tried to snap a family photo, Mila threw a tantrum (at least 20 that day) and Leo was in his own fantasy world. The tour ended with a beer or nonalcoholic drink at the bar. Such an amazing experience that really makes you want to watch all of the Hobbit movies (perfect activity for a rainy day).
Speaking of rain, the last two days brought heavy downpours all day long! Its amazing how lucky we’ve been, 10 months on the road and I think this is the first time since Perigord in France where we had an entire day(s) washed out. Everything looks green and beautiful but you cannot be outside for the obvious reasons. So the next two days we spent doing absolutely nothing. First day was super nice, and we caught up on much needed rest, but after 24 hours the kids & parents got cabin fever! Tomorrow, we’ll drive to the east coast and to Ohope, voted one of New Zealand’s nicest beaches.