Monday, August 31, 2009

Kia Orana from Rarotonga!

Greetings from the Cook Islands! Actually we're back now, but I really wanted to share the native greeting along with some photos from our trip. To offer bit of reference, here's a map and some info about these tiny South Pacific islands.

  • 16 islands spread over an area the size of India
  • Total population is around 16,000
  • Annual tourists number around 100,000
  • The Cooks have their own language and government, and use NZ currency
  • We visited Rarotonga, the biggest and most populated island, which is 20 miles (32km) in circumference
It was a struggle for me to adjust to the new time zone. The Cook Islands are only two hours different from NZ (same time zone as Hawaii) but over the international date line from us. The flight's only three hours, but you add a day going there and lose a day coming back. Good thing Jake was there -- I never had any idea what day it was.

Check out this awesome pic Jake took of the palms at our resort. We chose the Cooks because his company asked him to go there for two days' work. Pretty awesome! He worked for a couple days and then we stayed for a long weekend. My first assignment upon arrival was to rent a scooter and get my Cook Islands driver's license because you can't drive there without one. So while he was at work, I headed to the Rarotonga police department. After showing my US license (still don't have an NZ one), handing over $20 and performing a 15-second skills test (which involved the Budget Rental Car lady standing in the parking lot watching me drive my scooter "down around that tree and back"), I was official.

I wondered if this was just a way to raise money from tourists, but that's okay. They handed me my license along with a coupon for free coffee down the road.

And on the flip side was a coupon for a local pub in case you failed. :)

Here's a shot of the first thing I saw upon walking out of the police station with my new license. This poor gal's getting a ticket for going over the 40 kph limit. I felt kind of bad taking her photo but did it anyway. And now some pics of the island.

Rarotonga is surrounded by a lagoon that is perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

Lots of beautiful palms and fern trees. The weather was really mild, since it's still winter and it's not so far north as to be tropical, and it was overcast on some of our days, but we loved it!

We did some snorkeling on both sides of the island, and saw a lot of cool fish. We even had a chance to go out during the resort's daily fish feeding, where you hold out pieces of bread while you're snorkeling and the fish swarm you and eat out of your hand! The fish have adapted to this daily ritual and come in droves.

We didn't have an underwater camera, but this little fishy was close enough to the shore for us to shoot him.

I was pretty excited that this was the first time I've actually snorkeled without any floatation assistance -- usually I use a life jacket or something because I've never been really confident in the water. It may sound silly, but this was a real personal accomplishment for me! It was amazing!

Saturday was market day with lots of produce, crafts, souvenirs and live performances.

I think one of the local specialties is called tivaevae -- a type of quilting that's very colorful and used for bedspreads, pillows, etc.

Our resort was pretty nice without being a really fancy, high-dollar place. We enjoyed many a cocktail under these cabanas.

And here's a couple pics of the inland. We weren't able to explore much on our own as the inland trails are unmarked and they recommend you hire a guide to show you around. Apparently it only takes about four hours to hike over the hills from one side of the island to the other.

I can't help it -- 40 k's an hour on a scooter can give you a wild hairdo.

Enjoyed some really nice restaurants and of course some tasty cocktails.

What a gorgeous, relaxing, lovely place. It seems strange to find this little piece of paradise out in the middle of nowhere. We'll miss you Rarotonga. Hope we meet again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lovely weekend at home

Friday: We both skipped the usual after-work drinks and headed back to our little suburb of Khandallah, where we had dinner out at its nicest restaurant, "Taste." Since it's such a nice little place, I added a small tip to our bill. It almost seemed a bit odd because it's been a while since we've tipped anyone. 

Saturday: We had some fantastic weather on Saturday morning, so we headed out for a walk in the botanic garden first thing. Wellington has a pretty amazing botanic garden, and even though we've been there a couple times already, we found some walkways and monuments we've hadn't seen yet, including this birdbath.

In the afternoon we headed out to Kilbirnie Park, where the KPMG rugby team, in blue, took on a couple other accounting firms. 

I can't tell you much about how our team fared because 1) rugby still doesn't make much sense to me, and 2) Jake and I were in charge of the grilling. 

It was an important task they wouldn't leave to just anyone, or at least that's what we told ourselves. I learned that a typical barbecue involves sausages and grilled onions that you slap on a piece of white bread along with a bit of tomato sauce (otherwise known as t-sauce or ketchup). You can find a barbecue like this at a lot of these neighborhood rugby events, often run by organizations raising money for this or that. Because ours was sponsored by KPMG, we didn't have to charge anyone... just serve the dogs. Big thanks Brett for all the help -- I think he loved having the opportunity to talk to all the girls who came through the line. And also to Matt (in the background of this pic) who didn't really help, but stood around and chatted with us. ;)

Sunday: Really enjoyed taking it easy today with housework and prepping for our trip to the Cook Islands next week. Our friendly neighbors Peter and Elaine invited us over for tea around 3 p.m., and I have to admit, I'm still learning what "tea" involves. This time, they had another neighborhood couple over, Stewart and Robin. We drank tea, snacked on scones and had the most interesting discussions about the American healthcare system, the nation of Vanuatu (where Peter and Elaine visited for three months this year), New Zealand's goofy traffic laws (just one in particular that actually deserves its own blog post), and what it's like to be married for so many years (Stewart and Robin just celebrated their 50th anniversary). It was so interesing! Jake and I have some amazing neighbors. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holy smokes. That's yellow.

I think the giant yellow bruise is a sign that it's healing, right? 

My poor husband says he's been feeling much better now a week and a half after breaking his collar bone. He's been going to PT, using his left arm more and even going without his sling. Maybe soon he'll take the wheel and give me a break from driving us everywhere. :) But I'm not complaining. This guy didn't even take a day off work! This happened to be a really full-on (Kiwi term) time of year -- therwise I think he would have taken a week. I know I would have! We're all wishing you a quick recovery, honey. 

P.S. Does anyone else think this bruise resembles the South Island of New Zealand? 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Father's Day again?

And speaking of holidays, I just realized why we almost forgot about father's day back in June. Apparently NZ celebrates it in September. (Sorry Dad and Jim, you're not getting another card out of us.) And Labor Day? That's in October. I think the Kiwis want to have as many work holidays as possible during the nice weather because you won't find any between about June 1 and late October. Sounds good to me!

Happy Birthday Aaron!

Happy Birthday to one of our good friends Aaron today, August 13. Hope you have a good one!

(Photo: Halloween 2006)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A trip to the farmer's market

On Sunday morning, a few hours before Jake's exciting sports moment, I was enjoying my favorite Sunday morning pastime... the farmer's market. It's right on the harbour, and you can even walk up and buy fish fresh off of the boat. But I'm usually just stocking up on our fruits and vegetables. 

I'm sure someone else would have a better idea of the differences in the produce here, but I've picked up on a few things. 

First, zuchinis are called courgettes, and we eat a lot of them, mostly steamed or sauteed, but sometimes in pasta. I think mandarin oranges are pretty popular here, and they are delicious. But my favorite is the kiwifruit. 

I could eat a dozen of these at a time. There's the traditional green kiwifruit and also a sweeter golden kiwifruit, which is amazing. Mmm! 

Monday, August 10, 2009

Making his mark on rugby

We're all about having new experiences, and Jake had two pretty big ones this weekend. The first was a chance to play some rugby with the guys -- it was a practice with the guys from work in preparation for some games vs. some other accounting firms here in town. 

The second experience, as a direct result of the first, was a visit to the ER for a broken collar bone. 

The friendly hospital staff offered him some nitrous oxide (the same pain relief, we heard, that they give women who are going into labor. Can you imagine?), which he fully enjoyed while waiting for the X-rays.

So fond, in fact, that happily told the doctors and nurses that this break isn't nearly as bad as the one he got playing soccer and everyone seemed very interested in seeing the scar on his leg. He also called his buddies to make jokes about needing some big rugby players to come in and help the doctors reset his dislocated shoulder. 

In the end, they can't do much for a broken collar bone, so they sent him home in a sling with some hefty pain medication. One thing we didn't leave with was a hefty hospital bill. Thanks to NZ's national healthcare program, we spent a whopping $3 on each of two prescriptions (including some codeine) and $9 on some over-the-counter paracetamol, which is like Tylenol they tell us. These are NZ dollars too, so we're talking only about $10 USD. And nothing at all from the hospital, unless they mail us a bill later. 

So he'll have to wear the sling for several weeks and meet with a physiotherapist, and may always have a little bump on his shoulder, but he'll be just fine. I hope he feels better soon. 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Relaxing Saturday hike on the west coast

You've been asking for more sheep photos, and we're here to deliver.  We snapped photos of these fluffy fellas on our hike today at Makara Beach on the west coast, which is about a 30-minute drive from home. 

Pretty sweet view for a farm animal, don't you think?

Our friends Archie, Maggie and little Cameron took us out on the hike, which involved a gradual climb up from the beach to the top where the sheep roam. 

Apparently this wind farm is only about a year old.

But these bunkers date back to WWII.

On the way home we drove by lots of sheep, cows, horses and even ponies. Then out of the blue, saw a bunch -- oh no -- a gaggle of geese in a field. What the...?

But I have to tell you (especially you, Katherine) the best is yet to come. I'm told that it's getting to be baby sheep season here in New Zealand. Some may call these little critters lambs, but I think "baby sheep" sounds so much cuter. My next assignment: snapping some baby sheep photos. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Welcome to August

Can't believe it's August already. We're looking forward to the warm weather that's just around the corner. 

So we had to smile over the weekend when we flipped over the page of the calendar our families made for us before we left. The photo for August was taken in the boat at Table Rock Lake with Aunt D (driving) and Shelly, and Emily and Ella, who aren't sure what to think.