Sunday, March 30, 2008

Center of NZ

We have all been staying busy: Ediza has been playing with Peter and Sue's 20-month-old granddaughter, I've been running some great trails and Big Bird has been doing his mating dance at Amber.

The other day we were invited to an indoor play area for small kids called Chipmunks. Here's a photo of Ediza going down a big inflatable slide there with daddy.

As a family we hiked to the "center of New Zealand" lookout point. From the top, Amber and Ediza looked down on the Maitai Valley.

On the way back down, Ediza was looking stylish in mommy's sunglasses and her new hat and vest from a children's clothing store called Pumpkin Patch.

Friday, March 28, 2008


The past few days we've been staying just outside of Nelson in a white dome-shaped house up on a hill. Nelson is a city known for its sunshine, although it has been cloudy and rainy lately.

We really like Nelson, which has a great downtown area with parks, shops, cafes and restaurants (there's three Thai places practically next door to each other)! Amber bought a water bottle in this store called Kathmandu today and the cashier was from Baltimore (he's actually one of the few Americans we've met so far).

The city has some great running spots, my favorite being an area known as the "center of New Zealand." I just got back from running there in the rain this evening. With being so busy traveling, I've vowed to be more disciplined about my running and to stop drinking coffee and alcohol (not including the occassional chai) until after the marathon.

Peter and Sue's place is very nice. They have more than 20 acres and a whole heap of animals, including a herd of 20 llamas and alpacas. Sue and Amber (pictured here with Amber Rose, the llama) walked four of the female llamas this morning.

Other animals on the farm include ducks, geese, dogs, parrots, a cat, a donkey and this crazy ostrich named Big Bird.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

South Island

We've made it to the South Island following a few days of travel. After leaving Thames we drove down to Turangi, near Tongariro National Park. We took off from there in the morning rain listening to a Beethoven cassette (with no antenna we still get very limited radio stations) and made it all the way down to Wellington.

We spent the night at a cool backpackers in the heart of downtown Wellington where we enjoyed strolling (and running) along the wharf, eating (and drinking) at a brewery and visiting Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum. There were also plenty of playgrounds around the city, like the one below, that helped Ediza get some of her energy out.

Our journey continued on the Interislander ferry, which is a three-hour boat ride connecting Wellington (at the bottom of the North Island) to Picton (at the top of the South Island). After driving our car off the ferry we continued about another two hours to Nelson, where we are now staying with Peter and Sue.

More to come (including pictures) once I make it to an Internet cafe in town.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On the road again

Following a hilly llama trek this morning we're on the road again. We're cutting our time in Thames down a bit in order to make it to the South Island (we have three or four places to visit there plus another back near Auckland). Thanks Mark, Trish and Hazel!

Happy Easter & Happy Birthday!

Ediza opened her very own Easter basket this morning. Amber and I have been collecting goodies, like this wooden horse, over the past few weeks to fill her basket with.

Along with being Easter, today was Hazel's 83rd birthday (it was also the first time in those 83 years that her birthday landed on Easter). We had a big feast this evening in celebration of her.

Hazel is Mark's mother and lives in her own section of the house here. She moved to New Zealand from England a few years ago after her husband passed away.

She's quite a remarkable woman and always finds a way to make us laugh -- whether it's reciting old English nursery rhymes to Ediza or reading us entries from her journal when she visited America in 1977.

After dinner, Hazel read an Irish poem about something she knows a thing or two about -- aging gracefully.

Small world

It's a small world after all, and here's why. Meet Nancy and her daughter Serene, the latter of whom was actually born in Sonora almost 30 years ago. They only lived there for a little bit before moving to the Bay Area and eventually settling in Sonoma County.

Nancy has been to the Strawberry Music Festival several times and loves it, as do we. (We already have tickets to the fall festival as an incentive to come back).

Serene moved to New Zealand back in 2003 with her kiwi partner. A year later her mom joined her after being fixed up with Eric, who is Dutch and has lived here for many years. They've been building a cob house addition to the wooden house Eric started building eight years ago.

They plan to marry at the property this coming January.

Inside the cob house, this is where the bathroom will go.

And this will be the kitchen and dining area. Check out that tree in the wall.

Cob houses are an eco-friendly way of building, Eric explained to me. His cob is a mixture of clay, hay and straw that is mixed together and used to build the structure. He also used second-hand materials for things like the roof and windows.

These stairs lead you up to the existing house. On the right you can see their food pantry made out of cob. They also have an outdoor cob oven they make pizzas in.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hot Water Beach

Today we drove across the Coromandel Peninsula to visit Hot Water Beach. Being the day before Easter (and a sunny, hot one at that) there was only about a million people there. Everyone was really excited to experience the geothermal heat rising from deep beneath the sand below. Amber and Ediza dug some sand to try and warm up their own personal pool.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A good Friday

Today was an eventful day. I went on an early morning run and then returned just in time for Amber to shear the two llamas -- Mr. Bolivio and Levina. After that, Hazel treated us to tea and hot cross buns, which she explained is a Good Friday tradition.

This afternoon we headed up the coast back to Coromandel Town and ate at a funky little cafe where Ediza made some kiwi baby friends. Then we went on a neat train ride (the miniature train wasn't enough) at this retreat where potters come from all over the world to stay at. The hour-long ride had cool pottery sculptures and artwork throughout.

Originally, the railway was a way for the man who owns the place to collect clay and materials for his pottery. Over the years, the Driving Creek Railway has evolved into a nearly three-kilometer trek with three short tunnels, two spirals and five reversing points. It ends at the Eyefull Tower, which gives you a great view of the peninsula.

With a late dinner and some wine, it was definitely a good Friday. By the way, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in New Zealand. Not a bad idea, eh?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mini horse trek

She's ridden the Dalai Llama, a dairy cow named Summer and now Charlie, a white miniature horse with braided hair.

We ventured off into the bush this afternoon for a horse trek -- baby style. It was a little person on a little horse.

We stopped at this river for a break. Pretty, an energetic three-legged dog, took a swim as her owner, Vicky, watched.

I was the photographer, while Amber held on to Ediza (although she really didn't need much help as Ediza was quite the natural). Charlie was lead by a pharmacist from Holland who leads horse treks in New Zealand and Australia for half the year.

What a cool experience!

Blue butterflies

Today we went to The Butterfly Garden, which is a sauna-like greenhouse that holds about 400 butterflies. They're all flying around and some, like the one to the right, even land on you. The ones above are feasting on some grapefruit and bananas.

We've been continuing to do our thing -- Amber clipped llama toenails, I went on a run and Ediza took a bubble bath.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fun in the sun

Surprise, we went to the beach again today. This time Ediza had a friend with her, Isabella (Trish's goddaughter). Boots the dog was also there, but no llamas:(

We've been seeing some sights, doing some yard work and Amber has been working some with the llamas. The plan is to get them out, to a place like the beach or the bush, before we leave.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Choo Choo

We've been adjusting to our new location this weekend -- visiting the Saturday morning market, taking a drive up the coast, getting kicked out of a meditation center, eating at little cafes and riding on a miniature train along the ocean. This photo with the conductor was taken just before the train blew its whistle and we took off.

We're staying with first-time llama owners, Mark and his partner Trish. They live with Mark's elderly mother, Hazel, in a large house overlooking the town of Thames. Mark's a transpersonal psychotherapist (still not quite sure exactly what that is), while Trish is an organic grower.

In their kitchen they have a chalkboard shaped like a rooster where they write things they want, things ranging from a first aid kit to a chess board to a yurt to a kitchen sink plug. For a long time they had llamas written on it until Hazel bought them a pair for Mark's 50th birthday. They have two adult llamas (a male and a female) and a baby cria who was born at the beginning of the year.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


We're leaving Kerikeri today and starting our journey south. We'll be driving about five hours down to Thames, at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula. There, we have two places to visit before heading further down to Wellington and catching the ferry to the South Island. We'd like to thank Julie and Peter and everyone for their hospitality and showing us a good time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


So I'm adding a new feature to our blog -- profiles on interesting people we meet along our travels. Here's the first on Julie, the owner of the llama farm we've been staying at for the past three weeks.

Growing up, Julie Insley's passion was horses. These days it's llamas.

Insley, 48, grew up on a dairy farm near where she now lives, just outside of Kerikeri on New Zealand's northeastern shore. She became a vegetarian at age 13, when she came home from school and found her father had killed her pet chicken.

Animals, especially horses, were a main priority for Insley. "From morning 'til dusk I was on a horse," she said.

But reality was calling, and after high school Insley's mom persuaded her to apply for a lab technician job at the local hospital. Unfortunately, she said, she got the job.

"We had these stools that I was spinning around on one day because I was bored," she said. "I fell off and broke my tailbone."

After being sent home early from work, she came across an injured seagull, which she immediately took to a veterinarian. There, while waiting on a beanbag chair, she ran into her girlfriend's boyfriend, who had brought in his hurt dog.

The two eventually married and moved to New Zealand's western coast.

"I married on a dare," she said.

Once the pair split, an Auckland rock band ended up moving in to take her ex's place. Insley wound up managing the band, traveling with them throughout the country.

"They drove me completely bananas," she said.

Wanting to rid herself of the band, she decided to sell her house so she put an ad in the newspaper. A man from Papua New Guinea rang her up and asked why she wanted to sell.

When she told him, he offered her something she couldn't pass up -- a chance to manage his friend's racing stable.

So, Insley moved off to Papua New Guinea to race horses. At 5 feet, 11 inches she was the tallest jockey "by a long shot," she said.

One day, Insley was preparing for a race on a training track made out of chicken manure.

"There was a sprinkler that was over too far and it created a wet patch on the chicken shit," she said. "The horse fell and I tried to roll out of the way, but the horse bounced onto me -- onto my head and shoulders."

Insley was flown back to New Zealand and spent six months in a spinal rehabilitation unit trying to recover from her broken neck.

After rehabilitation, she moved back to her old house, minus the band.

Fourteen years ago, she met her partner, Peter, and decided to move back to Kerikeri. Still a horse owner, Insley said she felt unsafe at the unpredictabilty of horses.

"Quite frankly, I got sick of it," she said.

So she found a herd of llamas in the nearby town of Russell and instantly fell in love as they swarmed around her wheelchair.

In 1996, she bought her first llama.

"What the hell do you do with a llama?" she remembered thinking.

Well, she soon found out as she eventually acquired the whole herd of 16 llamas from Russell.

"They're like potato chips," she said. "You can't have just one."

Insley, owner of Rangemore Llama Farm, has been the president of the New Zealand Llama Association since its formation in 2003. She also runs two llama-related Web sites and a blog.

She uses a voice-activated computer and moves her large mouse with her hand and chin. While she's on the computer in the early morning and evening hours, she likes to spend the days out with her herd of llamas, which has now grown to about 50.

Insley zips around in her electric wheelchair, usually with a cup of Milo chocolate drink nearby and Bruno, a green Indian Ringneck, either on her lap or hat. She said she's constantly amazed at the reliability and intelligence of llamas.

"I don't see malice in a llama," she said.

Ediza likes to get rides from Julie in her wheelchair and Peter on the lawnmower.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dolphin discoveries

We went on a four-hour boat ride this afternoon through the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand. During the cruise, we spotted a mama dolphin swimming with her playful baby.

Amber was planning to swim with the dolphins, but wasn't allowed to because of regulations stating people can't swim when baby dolphins are present. I was planning to watch Ediza while Amber swam because I've already swam with dolphins (years ago in the Bahamas).

Regardless, it was a real enjoyable boat ride and being able to see the dolphins in their natural habitat was pretty impressive.

After we returned back to the farm I met up with a local running club that had invited me to participate in their fun run this evening. But this is no normal running club -- they like to drink after, and sometimes during, their runs. Once we ran through area farmland we stopped along the road and drank homemade beer. At least no one drank beforehand as we had to hop over an electric fence:)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Parrots & llamas

In addition to swimming, running and walking (usually with llamas), we've found time to visit The Parrot Place -- a refuge for parrots and other birds from around the world. Here's a cool Australian parrot named Digger.

Amber was really excited about cutting ear tags off of Caramel and Coffee. They came from a ranch where they have so many that they're not named, they're just numbered with ear tags. In the black-and-white photo below Amber is putting on Chocolate's halter. He's made much progress, as have the others, with being handled. Today they even loaded in and out of a van, and Chocolate went to the beach.

In other llama news, Jos pulled Amber and Ediza in a cart down the driveway, while Tess (the dog) and Peter (Julie's partner) assisted.

'Now I ride cows'

Ediza had another first today -- she rode a friendly dairy cow named Summer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dalai Llama

Ediza Rose riding saddleback on the Dalai Llama -- the first born male at Rangemore Llama Farm in Kerikeri, New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Meet Cloudy, our means of travel while in New Zealand. We officially own the car and plan to sell it before we leave. Cloudy has lots of character (its windows don't work, nor do the lights inside), but we mainly care about it being reliable.

We have been driving Cloudy around to many beaches lately (see photos below). While driving, we only seem to get one radio station -- one that plays tons of Metallica and Pearl Jam and has constant advertisements about premature ejaculations. I guess that's a problem here?

Our favorite beach so far is Tauranga Bay, where we ventured off to yesterday after a morning llama walk.

Amber continues to work with the llamas (feeding them hay, giving vaccinations, etc.), while I let them loose. This morning I accidentally left a gate open and the female herd escaped into the back yard. At least none made it to the driveway:)

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to run -- along country roads, on the waterfall trail and barefoot on the beach.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Kaleidoscope World

Today we went to Kaleidoscope World -- a really cool place where you can view a variety of kaleidoscopes with patterns made from things like soap bubbles, flowers in a fountain and tiny figurines bouncing on a stereo speaker to Queen's "We Will Rock You."

Amber continues to make progress with her halter and lead training of Coffee, Caramel and Chocolate. She and Helena, another helper at the farm, walked llamas down the driveway (which has a golden kiwi fruit orchard along one side) this morning, while I pushed Ediza in her new stroller. Julie's mom was kind enough to get us the stroller as a gift from the thrift store (op shop) she volunteers at.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The sweet smell of sulfur

We went to some nearby hot springs today and took Ediza in a mild pool that felt like warm bath water. Amber and I went into a hotter pool, although some were so scorching we could barely dip our toes in them. These hot springs were much different than the ones we're used to, like those around Bridgeport and Mammoth.

At the hot springs here you pay a small fee to get in and there's all these little pools with names like Solomon and Doctor and they're all set at different temperatures. Some are steaming, while you can rub cold green mud on yourself in others. Regardless of where you go, there's a strong smell of sulfur in the air.

Before the hot springs we went to the Bay of Islands Farmers' Market, which is much larger and more impressive than the one in Sonora (no offense). We bought macadamia nuts and blueberries and freshly-squeezed orange juice and lots of other stuff. A flower vendor there even gave Ediza her own little mini bouquet of pretty flowers.

People are always giving Ediza things. Just yesterday a lady in an antique store gave her this doll, which really creeps Amber out. Its got the face of a girl baby doll and the body of a boy. Rather disturbing, wouldn't you agree?