Just what the kids asked for: sand, snow and mud.

So begins my first travel post since returning home to kiwiland.

It has been awhile and its a little bit different from Asia, but there are now kiwi adventures to be had in this great land of ours. Lots to explore. Less chickens and motorbikes, more trees and scones.

For this school holidays we decided on the optimal mix of experiences to keep all the peeps happy- beachfront sand at Waihi, snow skiing in National Park and mud, lots of smelly mud in Rotorua. All on a part-time salary budget. Packing was a one hour delight, thank god for the seven seater.

First off the beach. It must have been 15-20 years since we had been to Waihi. As we nervously pushed out dinner to our 7pm arrival, we looked out for the RSA thanks to google, and stumbled upon quite possibly the biggest RSA in the country, perched upon Waihi’s hilltop entrance. We were in luck, the food was delivered almost instantly, the roast was superb and the company of #silvertops thought our children were delightful. Result, and we managed to skip bed, bath and beyond. Love holidays.

The house we hired was right on the beach, a secret little bargain that could sleep three families. Highly recommended for your next Waihi visit, but don’t tell too many.

http://www.holidayhouses.co.nz/properties/56143.asp

A great little guide to Waihi left at the house led us to The Deli for Allpress coffee, the best cinnamon brioches and fresh bread rolls. The local boomers are regulars here.

The kids spent their days running from the house to the sea, discovering the giant manmade sand pillows to leap between while they protected the eroding sand dunes. We will be back.

Waihi beach

Waihi beach

Now for some spring skiing! We headed for Te Honu House in National Park, one you can hire for your whanau, that shows a lot of love from its owners and those that that use it.

Usual Mt Ruapheu antics, meant we had to wait a day to head up, but once the skies opened up it was as good as it gets.

After a great coffee from the Railway Cafe, we headed for Happy Valley with kids and gear in tow. I had to relearn how to get on a chair lift with skis, a snowboard, poles, and a four year old in tow. Luckily we hade four hands between us and surprising some really competent and friendly lifties. They obviously save their best for the learners.

Now this is where I got a little teary eyed and humbled by seeing so many parents and grandparents going to huge efforts to give their children the chance to experience snow. I saw dads skiing with a baby in their arms (don’t be alarmed Happy Valley is virtually flat) and toddlers on skis in front. Falling, getting up, falling, but lots of laughter. I think its probably why we all love ice cream, snow magically makes you happy. I saw families with packed lunches in old Tip Top blue boxes, grandparents running down the slopes with iPads in hand and as many smiles as there were wails.

As for our two, Zami was a natural after previous snow planet lessons, Cocolily couldn’t stand after two days. Might have been something to do with the fact that we couldn’t really put her between our legs and ski down, whilst we were on our snowboards. We finally handed over our precious to a 19 year old ski instructor called Daniel who had her skiing in less than 10 minutes. Glad the experts were on hand!

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Sunset over Mt Ruapheu

Sunset over Mt Ruapheu

I also slipped in a spectacular mountain bike ride on the Fisher Track with the lovely Stacey Faire. Leaving from the railway station at National Park, you’ll need a pick up at the end of this nearly two hour cycle across rolling hill farms, with spring lambs and wild goats bouncing along beside you. Seriously unbelievable.

National Park Fisher Track with Stacey Faire

National Park Fisher Track with Stacey Faire

Nothing like falling in cow dung while mountain biking

Nothing like falling in cow dung while mountain biking

Now off to see some boiling mud. Naturally, Rotorua was on my list of places to take the kids. Loads of big and small kid fun.
We did the big stuff like luging, log flume ride, fed the trout, saw the bird show but found a few really cool less known experiences along the way. Here’s three of our favs.

A must visit when you are up the Skyline Gondala is Volcanic Wines. A retail based business, they buy the grapes from the best, make them at the bottom of the gondola and sell them at the top, in a stunning warehouse that feels like a loft nearly in the clouds. If you are lucky, you will be served by Johnnie Rainbow, likely in his 60s, a sale pro with a facial scar that makes him interesting but not scary. We tried their 5 wines and left with two bottles, accompanied by a great platter. Mr Rainbow managed to rustle up dominos and colouring for our angels. A must visit.

Abracadabra Cafe and Bar was our second find. Run by a couple of under thirty year olds, this place manages to avoid the usual Rotorua fare of giant scones and bad coffee ( sorry Rotorua!) and serves a mix of Mexican and vegan (how can they go wrong?) But what you will really love here is the kids menu. As big as the grown ups menu, it includes Buckwheat Pancakes with fresh berries and even a Toddlers healthy ‘Bits and Bobs’ served in a cup cake tray. It’s open all day and you can book private rooms decked out Arabian style or sit out the back for draft beers amongst the Hula Huts and picnic tables. A perfect venue for kids dinner or when you are starving after luge riding. Other recommended dinning options include the brilliant Night Food Markets on a Thursday and Star Indian. The latter reminded me of the how London does curry. Everyone was in waistcoats and bow ties with service that made you feel like royalty. Run in for takeaway and you’ll find the service is just as good.

Rotorua night markets

Rotorua night markets

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Thirdly you can’t miss Wai-O-Tapu Natural Wonderland, 27k south of Rotorua. This place has the Lady Knox Geyser which rockets into the sky everyday at 10:15am, mud pools and a fantastic walk through neon green lakes and steaming champagne pink plateaus.

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Lady knox

Lady knox

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Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu

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So now for the car journey home to Auckland..well that’s another story!

Rat, Snake or Frog?

Have you ever thought about what you have eaten? I’m talking about the long table of life. One that would stretch out to who knows where and present everything you’ve ever devoured as one giant banquet. Chances are its ugly. According to Lou, mine would likely be a flat pyramid. It’s foundations thick with carbs, a second layer of meat and chicken balanced precariously on a weak bed of mortar given the sprinkling of potato chips and the oil that has likely made its way into the mix. Though of late, as most married men would attest too, vegetables and all manner of fruits have made their way on to that table.

How about the delicacies? I’ve had escargot, ostrich, kangaroo, crocodile, warthog and water buffalo. No insects, yet. I think I was served Zebra in Africa once, though can’t quite recall. I would now feel guilty admitting to it despite the fact they’re seen as sheep over there. Though I had mixed feelings when we finally arrived in the Mekong Delta. We took a slow boat down the river to see them make rice crackers, candy, popcorn all of it with no machines and even wrapped by hand. Despite the surprise of seeing it built up, (I was expecting not much more than the jungle – I’d seen Apocolypse Now), we opted to eat and sleep with a family in a homestay.

Tucked on the side of river, admittedly the turn off to it was under a giant new six lane concrete bridge, we walked through a long path covered in trees and were presented with a large thatched roof. Inside it looked more like a hostel than a traditional Vietnamese house. Reinforced by the kitchen which was large and a garden that was at least an acre. Though still really charming. Waterways divided the backyard, fish swam between the lotus leaves, Papaya, Jackfruit, Longan, and Melons were everywhere. All pretty idyllic I know. They asked us what we wanted for dinner. They could source the usual safe fare, vegetables and meats, though asked us if we wanted to shake things up. How did we feel about Rat, Snake or Frog? Having seen the river (it’s a muddy brown), we opted to double up on chicken.

When they returned from the market, Lou dove into the kitchen. I worked with kids on wrapping nuts and rice into a candy ball wrapped inside what looked like purple plasticine and was then folded into a triangled banana leaf. Delicious by the way, the kids loved it. We were served ten times the food that any normal person could eat. So allowing for the carbs and your basic meats, make that five people. They presented us with two of those meats listed in my title. I’ll include them in a picture. Yours truly ate both. I’ll let you guess. None of my family would touch it. Looks like the length of my table and the width of my pyramid continue to grow.
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Ho Chi Nam

It has been at least a month. Sorry, though it’s been a little hectic. We’re in the back of a van on our way to the Mekong Delta. Exciting stuff. In the last few weeks we have crammed a lot in. Needless to say we’re loving it. Vietnam has a killer energy about it. It’s clean which is surprising. It’s even more developed than Bali, though with c90 million bodies you’d hope it would be. We managed to dodge the super typhoon Haiyan which was due to make landfall in Hanoi about the sometime we were. Thankfully it dissipated and headed north to China. Thanks for the kind thoughts Si and to Lou and Scotty for looking after us in Singapore. We arrived to a perfect sunset and the luck with the weather has fortunately, stayed with us.

Vietnamese is our favourite food. Luckily each hotel we stay in comes with a pair of scales so tracking my downward spiral to a heavyweight contender has been fairly easy. I blame the set menus on tour. Lou blames the beer, it’s a close run thing. Hanoi had a great vibe, everything I’d hope for in a big city. Hanging out in the old quarter is a treat, a street maze, dodging traffic, salted fish, water puppets and street vendors. We saw a serene Ho Chi Minh in his giant Mausoleum flanked by white guards. Lou wants her own. We drove up to Halong Bay which was dreamy spectacular though pretty over run. Great to stay on a Junk for a few nights. Ninh Binh is its quieter neighbour in the north with kilometer long tunnels you row through, to lakes, temples and lots of pink lotus flowers. We flew to Hue, which embraces rainy season. Our first real bit of rain in about 6-7 months. Eye popping temples and citadels with a second city tour in a Cyclo.

We’ve just finished 4 days in Hoi An, again narrowly missing the town being flooded about 3-4 days before we arrived. A shipment of goods is on the water enroute to NZ from Bali and another box, this time with tailored clothes and shoes from Hoi Ans’ Old Quarter is in the air. A source tells me they’ll fall apart before they get home. Turns out I’m not that smart on fabric. Who would have thought? Ho Chi Minh City is behind us, though we’ll be returning for the best part of a week. Plenty to see, the caravan continues. The girls are great, we have a stroller in tow now so all a bit easier (I lie). Can’t say the books progressing as fast as I’d like it too, though stay tuned. Overnight on the Delta, Phu Quoc in the south for some beach action and then we’ll be squeezing in Cambodia. Looking like Bali for Christmas if any one is thinking about it, could be a cheap room in a villa going in Canggu. More to come.

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Light & Dark

Hello again. Tonight I’m writing to you from the North East corners of Bali. Pandangbai no less. You know it? Hopefully not, you might in due course. Initial thoughts, best seen from a distance. The good news, I’m lounging comfortably in a night bed (it is around 10pm) staring at the far off lights of what I’m fairly confident is Lombok and the Gili’s and the port side town itself a couple of hundred meters below me. There are lightening flashes every thirty seconds, though no rain, it’s at least 25 degs. The call to prayer sounds about every hour over speakers I think were brought in directly from my high school ball. There’s no chorus, so I find myself unable to join in. That’s ok. I can also hear Johnny Be Good which I do know.

For all the lightness that I may or may not have conveyed to date there’s a few dark patches. The dogs over here a forlorn. It’s a problem, as I understand it. They’re pretty much at the bottom tier of the social hierarchy which means there’s little love for them. They wander, scavenge and dare I say it rip one another apart. Ugly. Couple that with a cock fight I managed to sneak into the other night. Locals c200, Palangi’s: 1. They keep their best cocks in baskets on the side of the road. They attach blades to their strongest foot, goad one another and scream for money before they’re released into the pit. One of them dies, they’ll be cheered and cash collected, all in about 2 mins. It’s part of life, pre ceremony so a given.

Anybody had a colonic? The ladies will know what I’m talking about. A friend of a friend mentioned he was a regular. Not one to shy away from a new experience I tried it out. Can’t say I’ll rush back. Though for 45 minutes I did my best as always to talk myself through it as all my dietary mistakes floated idly by in front of me. At least until I was sent to the toilet for something that just wouldn’t quite get through. Did I feel lighter? Yes. Darker? Possibly.

We made it to the North east coast of Amed. Had some killer dives, turtles, sharks, and fire coral. The last of which while a gentle touch is now flying it’s own flag as a 100 blisters spread across what use to look like my left leg. Still loving it. Singapore in 2 days, Vietnam in 8.

Pictures as previously promised, still yet to come courtesy of software I still need to download. Till then.

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I Think The Gods Love Me

Hello there. This comes to you live from a corner desk in our villa. It’s late at night and once again yours truly is putting finger to digital screen in the dark of night, aided only by fairy lights, vodka and cigars, the latter from a local coffee plantation. I can hear the river below me. What can I say about Ubud. A bit of a nexus for experience it’s got to be said. In the last few weeks we have bathed with elephants, drowned our collective sins (mostly mine) in holy baths; learned to cook with raw foods (more on this from Lou Nash I’m sure); trekked through the hallowed temples of Gunung Kawi; rafted the Agung River; cycled the downhill run of Mt Batur; taken in the Legong dance of the talented locals at Ubud Palace; photographed the painted breasts of Atonio Blanco (the eyes are actually better- did I say that?) and absorbed the local writers festival.

I have been assured there will be return trips. Quite possibly… no let’s be honest, without me. Girls, gear up. Lou will drag quite a few of you back here. My daughters are loving it. Coco Lily has come to the conclusion that she thinks the gods love her. Why wouldn’t they? Zami’s just finished a week with a local school that ended in a play. She played a monkey, a cheeky one. I had the pleasure (lets dial this down) of having two girls massage me at a local parlour, all above board I assure you!

There’s container of stuff with our name on it heading back to NZ. Confirmation of our impending arrival! Lots to see in between. A big shout out to Lou and Scotty for making the journey from the shackles of Seminyak. Looking forward to seeing everyone in a few months. Singapore, Vietnam and more Bali in between.

Pictures as always to come.
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Hemingway

Apologies in advance. I should have posted this about a week ago. I wanted to include pictures so waited. Sadly South Korea and California don’t see eye to eye. Its taken me this long to get a few pics through. Nonetheless, here it is.

And here I am. Having a Hemingway moment. An early warning. This will go past 300 words but read on. I promise a bit of fun. I’m half cut, so words are bound to flow. Talk to anyone that knows me. Maybe a few that don’t. It’s quarter past ten at night. The Fam is down and I’m up. Hard not to be with the view of Lombognan Island spread out in front of me. Granted, it’s dark, though there are plenty of lights to guide my eyes. I’ll post a pic of it in daylight so you know what to expect when you get here. You’re coming. I know.

The air out here sits at a stable 29 with the water trailing by 3-4 degrees. We’ve been out here for 8 days and I think have canvassed the island in pretty fair fashion. Suffice to say we’ll be coming back. True. I’ve been sick. Head spinning like I’ve been quaffing mushrooms from a forgotten field and purging myself (choose your exit point), like the Titanic on its maiden voyage. Ugly. Anyway you want to look at it.

In the last week or so I’ve had my toes nibbled by a 180 fish in a tank. Think gentle electric current. Stayed in a thatched hut in Mushroom Bay with the water a stones throw from it’s stairs. Ridden scooters all over the island, no helmets at times with both of the kids between my legs. Cavalier I know. Rest assured not a Bintang in sight. Scuba dived in search of the giant Mola Mola along with my own barely secreted hope of a Whale Shark (no on both counts sadly, 3 days prior apparently), ridden on a submarine and a banana boat.

What. No surfing you say? There’s a place called the Palms. It’s new. And I’m convinced I’ll be returning with several of you for a party and some surfing when I can actually do it.
For those that have been to Ku Da Ta in Seminyak, here’s a mini version with a break that will blow you’re brain. You’ll stare at its’ face from an infinity pool with a view from a cliff top with a Skinny Pina in hand. Sadly I was too sick and I’m too crap to ride it. So I sat there and watched wave after wave with no one on it. Why after 4 1/2 years in the Eastern Subs you say? I can tell you, it’s about 6,500 ft too short and lacks snow. Bitter? Possibly. I’ll get there. I still enjoy it, even if I’m paddling, though I know where the loyalty lies.

Tonight we dined at Coconut Island. You guessed it. It doesn’t have any coconuts and it’s not an island. That said the food was good and we were serenaded. The band asked us to choose three tracks. As ever I thought as Sweetpants would, the crowd. Layla, Hotel California, Imagine. They went down well. So good we’ll be looking for vinyl at home. The really bad news? On my last day in Sydney I bought a guitar. Ricardo I’ll be calling.

The girls are on fire. In great shape, both swimming, adjusting and from what I can see loving it. Long may that continue. Lou, tanned a picture of health..

Seminyak tomorrow. Lots of love.

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The heart of Ubud

The journey north to Ubud from Seminyak was nothing short of spectacular.

The streets lined themselves in groups of various crafts and skills: giant budda statues, stone carvings, cane chairs, wooden doors. I got whiplash trying to keep up with them all.

Scotty was on a mission to ubud and there was no stopping him. We were leaving the coast behind in search of tranquility and fresh air.

Coconut trees towered overhead and giant Bayans hung heavy with the latest ceremonial ornaments. This is what we came for. A bit of culture luv.

Of course we had the usual craziness of bali going on. Traffic on the narrowest of streets. Roosters being slaughtered. Random fires. People on motorbikes. Shops on motorbikes. Children on motorbikes. A group cremation involving 1000 attending villagers blocking the streets for days. You get the picture.

We arrived at our villa, thanks to the GPS, to greet the American owners who were going to stay at one of their other properties while we stayed at theirs. He is a Hollywood set designer who now designs, builds and exports furniture around the world and his second wife has become a Zumba teacher/hairdresser/life coach since moving to bali.

The villa was great but very much their home. An empty nesters paradise but you know what we can kinda play that game so we explored every cliff drop, over sized stairwell and pool with a sense of adventure. Of course the kids were excited. Within moments cocolily had found a black spider the size of an outstretched hand including fingers! Not poisonous apparently.

We have now been here a week and we are finding our groove. There a some lovely spots on the property and as long as we can keep cocolily in sight we can relax! (Sic) A large bale sits perched amongst the trees as the sun sets- where I am writing this from now actually. Our bedroom is surrounding by tree tops though 20 foot high glass windows so we are literally waking amongst the trees at daybreak. If the rosters don’t wake us first.

We signed up to cooking school and blessed a crowd with our presence. Balinese children use sharp knives from a very young age so I was constantly removing knives from my kids hands as the chefs were encouraging them to chop, chop, chop! Zammie actually got the swing of it, dicing up garlic for the sauce and pounding the chicken in a giant pestle and mortar.

The writers festival starts this week and thankfully we managed to get tickets, which Scotty and I are going to dovetail at. Some amazing speakers and we are really looking forward to hanging out with adults!

Tonight we are off to some fabulous dance show at the palace so a late one for the kiddies. Cross your fingers for us.

We are hooked up on Skype, under Scott Butler, Sydney, so if you’re keen find us, we’d love to chat. You can get a sneak peak of our little life in ubud on your screen.

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