February 27, 2012

Still Out of Oz

To see New Zealand adequately you need about six weeks. As far as we can tell the country is one big tourist destination designed with campers in mind. Not Canadian style snow birds—with their huge condos on wheels (you'd run one of those off the narrow winding roads inside an hour)--but more modest campervans, and tent dwellers (who range from car campers with basic stuff—like us, to expedition setups that would put safari camps to shame). Once you're on the road you can bunk down in anything from Holiday Parks (complete with communal kitchens, hot showers, laundries, entertainment rooms etc) to Department of Conservation sites (which are basic, beautiful and cheap).
The goal is to travel clockwise, or anti clockwise, North Island, South Island, or a combo of both and set off exploring at a fairly leisurely pace. If, however, your trip to NZ is suddenly cut short by the fastest visa processing time that anyone could have predicted, you need to develop a different strategy. We're calling ours the Sample NZ tour. Much like in wine tasting, where you sip from a large number of varietals, vintages and vineyards (then try in vain to remember just which vineyard had the best Riesling on your next visit to the bottle shop...) in two days SNZ saw us travel from the Bay of Islands, to the Tasman Sea, through the Kauri forest to Hobbiton.

The Tasman Sea: glorious, wild and rugged. The Kauri forest was lush and inspiring. Hobbiton was crazy weird—it is the movie set from LLTR 1 & 3 and was recently rebuilt for the Hobbit movies. Over 65,000 faithful show up each year (some in costume, we had an elf on our tour) and wander through the shire—walking in Gandolf's footsteps or looking out through Frodo's door, reciting lines from the movies.

Then came hot springs in Rotorua (a soak felt good after all the driving) and horse riding (through amazing country side past more sheep! and more cows!, bubbling volcanic mud (both to look at and soak in). And then more. We rode a gondola up a mountain and luged our way back down (so fun we did it twice). Then we visited a Kiwi recovery program and saw a newly hatched chick. Tonight we're headed to a cultural show then it's on to river rafting, mountain biking and another stop by the sea shore. We're trying to get in as much of NZ as we can before flying back to OZ on the weekend and I'm trying to hit the high points I have stories pegged to (NZ Tourism has been a gracious and helpful host on many of our outings, for those who asked about our budget...).

Our sample tour is busy—but we are taking time to hike interesting trails and drive down intriguing roads. We're not planning out more than a day or a so at a time—but we do have a departure date and will be back in Auckland in just a few more days—but between now and then we're on holiday so we're not going to count just how many days we have left...
But photos soon. NZ is gorgeous--suddenly flipping cold though...

February 23, 2012

Teaching a 10 Year Old About Love, Heroes and Yacht Design

overlooking Lion New Zealand

The tack would have been unremarkable: We shifted through about 90 degrees and ended up plowing toward a pretty cove in the Bay of Islands. What made it notable was the skipper was Maia and the yacht was a legendary 80' maxi called Lion New Zealand.
“Did I do it?” Maia asked.
“You rocked the tack. Let's do it again.” Was the response.
26-years ago, when I first met Evan, he and I were hooked on the progress of this very yacht. It was speeding round the world as part of the Whitbread race (which is now the Volvo Around the World Race)—losing a leg here, gaining a leg there and all the while it's skipper, Peter Blake was becoming a hero. Our hero.
The yacht came in second. The design was too heavy. But a few years later Blake had another boat designed—this time by Bruce Farr. And this time he won. Then he went on to sail America's Cup boats—and when his team NZ won the cup in 1995, Evan I decided we needed to see the next race: in New Zealand. But then went sailing and turned left rather than right, and Evan got a job with Bruce Farr and started designing Volvo boats and the competition's America's Cup boats. And Blake and team NZ won again in 2000, becoming the first non-American team to successfully defend the Americas Cup . And then in 2001, just after he retired to work full time on environmental issues, he was tragically killed by pirates in Brazil.

We told Maia the story. And as she giggled about descriptions of a young Evan and I falling in love over a race and building a life's dream over another—I wondered if kids ever understand or appreciate love stories when their parents are involved.
But then there was Lion. And as Maia held the wheel of the glorious old boat I wondered how much of a boat's magic comes from say the designer, or builder, or people who urge her across a finish line. And how much of this, I'll call it spirit, might flow through the wheel into Maia's hands.
Would she even understand what it was if it did make her finger tips tingle?
Or would she just think the tugging on the wheel was just the great boat feeling the wind and surging in the gusts...

“The boat is so overbuilt.” Evan told me as he wandered around, marveling at how far yacht design has come. But I could see something else in his eyes as he shook his head over the winches and gazed up at the rig. I think because my mind went there too—to us; 26 years ago when we were entranced by a race, a skipper, and a dream, and we fell in love.

It's a dream we've followed haphazardly through the years as we've followed races, and design changes, and watched women and men chase their goals ever more rapidly around the globe. And if Maia didn't feel the magic when she held that wheel, and tacked a huge boat she could barely see over the bow of--I did.

February 22, 2012

Exile-New Zealand Week One

driving the AC boat NZ41

It is possible to plan, pack and begin and international trip of no set duration within a four day window. But to pull it off you need friends. Really kind friends.
You need the kind of people who will take on your cat, look out for your home and offer you beds. And meals. And the stuff you forgot (didn't have time) to pack. And a travel itinerary to make up for the one you haven't got around to organizing.
You also need the ability to let stuff go. To realize that that long dreamed of trip to New Zealand is happening and you haven't got a clue where to go, what to do, or how long you're going to be doing it for.
So really, so far, our trip to New Zealand has been about showing up and letting it unfold.
It is E-NZ Day 6. We've toured Auckland (lovely), tasted wine (delish), seen sheep (fluffy), enjoyed the company of good friends, and tramped trails, we've sailed an America's Cup boat (exciting) and now we're headed to Bay of Islands to sail a Whitbread boat. Well, actually, right now, we're stranded on the side of the road with a broken down rental car sort of hoping the company will actually come through with a replacement car. It's nearly 8pm. The car broke down at 2pm—but it was almost 5pm before we had been towed to civilization, checked by a mechanic and the rental company agreed, that indeed, an exploding radiator was most likely not our fault. Then they needed convincing that it was actually their job to bring us a new car.--despite the inconvenience

The good news is we've discovered Kiwi's who don't work for car rental agencies are awfully nice, and rather helpful. The bad news is we are definitely not making our destination tonight. We're not quite sure what our plan 'b' is—we've decided to wait and see what comes from the rental company first.

E-NZ day 7

Plan 'b' shifted to 'c' then 'd' before our new car arrived. Actually it didn't arrive—we saw it blow past on a flatbed at high speed while we sat parked on a side road a few blocks away. So by the time we chased it down, transferred our belongings, filled out paperwork it was far too late to continue north and definitely too late to back track and stay with our friends Rob and Jo on Blue Moon—so we headed to a nearby holiday camp (sort of a cross between an RV park and a 50's style cottage park—but in suburbia) pitched our tent and fell asleep. Giddy, happy and content.

It's pouring with rain this morning. We missed our boat in Bay of Plenty. But we're in New Zealand, man...

February 11, 2012

Growing Things

kids grow nicely on boats--plants, not so much...
Maia asked for two dollars to buy a basil plant. Yes, a basil plant. It’s not that she particularly likes basil--she actually isn’t that keen on anybody eating ‘Oliver’. It’s that she likes growing green things. Any green thing. And she assumed we’d be more open to onboard herbs, than say, flowers.

I get this. I’ve had gardens in some pretty unlikely places. We once got in trouble with a building manager for growing corn on our small balcony. When we moved out, dirt (including a large worm compost) made up about half our belongings.

When we moved into our condo in Vancouver, Maia and I quickly took over a neglected section of the property and installed a garden. Toddler Maia got a particular joy out of planting seeds (and digging them back up when I wasn’t looking to see how they were growing…), and deep happiness out of caring for the plants as they grew. Eating the rhubarb, peas, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries was truly secondary for her.

Maia had the original Oliver when we were in Mexico. She had bought him at a market and nurtured him through seasickness (we don’t think he liked the salty air) and heatstroke. She finally gave him up for adoption when we were getting ready to cross.

Since then, at every Pacific market, she's wistfully eyed plants, stroking the green leaves, knowing that we couldn’t have one aboard because we’d lose it when we got to Australia. But when she showed me Oliver II, I realized it was time to grow something new.

 I'm worried corn may be next.

February 4, 2012

Structure and Routine

Our weeks are beginning to develop structure and routine—a schedule, if you like. A path of activity that takes us from Monday (library), to Wednesday (circus), to Friday (community potluck) and on to Saturday’s farmer’s market and Sunday’s yoga. Not much (we’re waiting on visas to add work and school to the mix) but enough to make it clear we’ve made the transition from cruiser to live aboard.
Maia back at circus--Mairen and Siobhan are joining her

Part of what makes me love cruising for years on end is the chance to chuck the schedule and ditch the expectation of being somewhere specific—barring, you know, getting to a continent in time for cyclone season. And when I’m out there I don’t miss the schedule. We actively avoid the summer-camp-like ex-pat communities that try to re-impose order by setting up activities (coffee at 9am, followed by Mexican train and a Walmart run, and then beading at 2pm…) Instead our days are shaped by necessity (the engine needs attention) and whim (that reef looks perfect for snorkelling).
Friday potluck
 But after a few years, or maybe when we are in one place for more than a month or two, that changes. “I need something solid,” Maia told me the other day. “A life I can predict.”
heading to the Saturday market
 Maia hears, “we don’t know” as often as most kids hear, “no”.
“When will I go to school?”
“Where will I spend my birthday?”
“Where are we going next?”
“We don’t know—how awesome is that?”  We tell her.

But after a while, ‘we don’t know’ stopped sounding like a magical phrase that opened up a world of possibility, and began to echo a bit with emptiness. ‘We don’t know’ suddenly wasn’t the catch-phrase of our intrepid family on an adventure but a sign that we were drifting a bit. Not lost, just no longer sure where we were headed.

“I just want to know something for certain,” Maia explained. And as she said it, I realized I want the same thing. That maybe I’m a 2.5-3 year cruiser. And that after a few years I just need to stop, take stock and get my bearings. So we’re taking some time out for certainty; for the sureness of waking in the same place; for the solidity of routine.

Today it is yoga. Tomorrow is the library. And soon enough the magic of the unknown will be replaced by another kind of magic.

February 2, 2012

Into the Wild

 Old friends Don and Allison arrived for a visit this week—but rather than taking them sailing we loaded up a car and headed into the hinterlands. The region of Queensland we’re in offers pastoral mountains, great beaches and loads of wildlife. We’re still busy with friends—but here’s a few shots of the creatures we’ve encountered. I'm posting them mainly for my mum, but hopefully the rest of you will enjoy them. 
Except for the koala everything else was encountered in the wild.
Gorgeous Galah Cockatoos

Rainbow Lorikeet
Grey Kangaroo
Echidna crossing

Monitor lizard
flying fox