new zealand

New Zealand-Day 3

6am came quicker than I had anticipated. I understood we were waking up at 6am, having coffee and then going to the race. To me this meant that I had about 30 minutes to get around and get ready because I don’t drink coffee. What it actually meant was that at 6am everyone was up and by 6:15 we were all out the door and headed downtown. That being said, I was learning how to fit in with the kiwi women. Make-up was unnecessary; you’d either sweat or swim it off by noon. Mascara was a bit excessive and definitely don’t touch your hair because the humidity will restyle it anyway. I had learned already that sunscreen was the ultimate accessory, especially for glow-in-the-dark-pale-white people like myself. Oddly enough I saw several people who were as pale as me in New Zealand. Why we were all gathered in the most easily sunburning place in the world, I will never know, but I decided secretly that we were all part of a tribe, the Pale Power People.

Before the sun was up Johnny, Maaike, Misha, Elise, Matthew and I were all rushing towards Lake Taupo with thousands of others. We made our way through the crowd where we stood against a fence at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Johnny told me I could stand in front, right against the fence because I was the most vertically challenged. It was here that we saw the Maori row in on a waka and then perform a traditional dance that invited the athletes into the water and onto the land which the Maori owned. By 6:20 there were hundreds of athletes warming up in the water and about a thousand more on land doing stretches. Everyone was full of anticipation as we waited for the race to begin.

Amanda and the other pros began at 6:45 and 6:46, while everyone else had to wait until 7 to begin. The pros were fast and flawless and out of sight before I knew it. The following fifteen minutes were very interesting. Over a thousand people were wedged into a small piece of water. The crazy ones had swam out a few hundred feet and were treading water for ten minutes before the race even began. The shy ones, I learned, would stay towards the shore where they could easily touch bottom and bale out if they needed to. I was also anxious about the twenty or so people who waited until the announcer was counting down to the final thirty seconds to get into the water.

When the cannon went off I squealed with excitement and the entire crowd cheered and yelled as what looked like a million little fish swam towards the destination. Johnny had completed an Ironman in years past and was explaining that at that very moment many of those people were getting swam over, wacked in the head and kicked in the gut. The sad part was that at least three people dropped out of the race before they had even swam 50 meters. While it was easy to ask “Why start the race and pay thousands of dollars if you couldn’t even get past the first race?” it was explained that some people have unexpected health problems, others could have slept wrong, stretched wrong, ate wrong, or any number of things.

I really enjoyed watching a misplaced duck, swimming a few meters from the swimming blob of athletes. The poor duck realized what was going on and luckily made his way to shore before getting clobbered.

After a few minutes our crew walked down to the transition out of the water and got to see the first few pros out of the water. When they announced Amanda Stevens as first out of the water, everyone in the group looked at me with surprise and said they didn’t realize my cousin was that legit.

After cheering Amanda out of the water, Matthew and I sprinted across a hill and behind a building where we caught her just as she was riding off for her five hour bike ride. After the transition we realized we had five hours to kill before we would see Amanda again. Johnny and Maaike invited us back to the house for breakfast. Because we got lost trying to get back to our car, we missed the group breakfast but Maaike was nice enough to make us breakfast separately. The menu…traditional Dutch pancakes which were out of this world amazing. They were about the thickness of a crepe except filled with ham and mozzarella cheese. Maaike explained that the Dutch syrup went in the middle of the pancake and then we were to roll it up and eat it with a fork. The taste was very unique and delicious.

 

After breakfast we spent several hours on the free wifi figuring out the next few days of our trip. It took us a few emails to figure out that I had mixed up the days and we actually had one more night in Taupo before having to drive back up to Auckland for our flight to Australia. During this time period we accepted a job offer and made our plans for traveling across Australia to our new job. These plans would be completed over the next two weeks. I booked cars, accommodations and flights and by the time I was done we were starving and ready to head back downtown for lunch and Amanda’s next transition.

Lunch was downtown at an adorable little cafe Matthew and I wandered into. Pacolli I think was the name of it. I had a Spinacolo, which was a kind of spinach and cheese pastry cut into a pie shape. The man taking my order had told me that my entree came with a big, huge salad. When I got my plate I was reminded once again that everything was bigger in America. The salad was very tasty, but about the size of my palm. I did get full, however. Every time I have mentally criticized the portion sizes over here I have been pleasantly full and realized that there are certain reasons why America is fat. Another example is that the entire four days I was in New Zealand, I only saw one soda fountain. Another reason is that everyone is always outdoors doing stuff, rather than sitting around, working, sleeping or watching television.

After lunch we walked down to the bike transition and watched the top males come in, followed by the top females with Amanda coming in around seventh or eighth. We were so proud of ourselves for finding the transition and being able to cheer Amanda on as she began her 26.2 mile run. After getting her started we ran across the park to the main road where the runners would be crossing by six times. It was here that during her run, Amanda saw Matthew and I cheering and threw her biking gloves at us. The people next to us automatically thought we were pretty cool and so did I. That was, until we asked them how many miles the first leg of the run was. The man laughed and said, “Miles! You aren’t local are you?” He joked with us and then explained the run to us and we all converted the kilos over into miles so Matthew and I could figure out just what was going on. Because we were either super friendly or super lost, the man helping us offered to meet Matthew for a beer later. I have been constantly surprised with the friendliness of the kiwis. I love their cheerful hospitality.

All afternoon we would cheer on Amanda when she ran by, and then sit and wait in the sun for 30 minutes until she ran by again. Towards four o’clock we camped out by the finish line and watched the first, second and third place males run in. One of the males broke a record on the bike. Meredith Kessler was first in for the women and she broke her own course record by quite a bit. Amanda came in fifth place with a time of 9 hours and 12 minutes. It really is fascinating to think what all the human body can accomplish in just 9 hours. It is even more fascinating to be downtown at midnight and see other human bodies doing the same thing in 17 hours.

We heard that there are a lot of people who don’t finish until midnight and that Ironman has a big midnight party at the finish line to cheer people on.  We were too tired to find out.

New Zealand-Day 2

Taupo was such a lovely town. I could easily move their it was so wonderful. To me, it was a mix between a beach town and a mountain village. With a population around 23,000 the size was ideal as well. Our hosts, Johnny and Maaike told us that they loved it because they could do mountain biking and water sports there in the summer but also winter skiing was just as close.

Day two started with a complimentary breakfast that we fixed for ourselves. I had yogurt and Matthew made himself some eggs and cereal. After breakfast we headed downtown. We had contacted Amanda and told her we would meet up with her for her Pro Q & A session just after noon. Because we had an hour to kill we parked the car then wandered into the Taupo Museum. At just $5 per person this was money well spent.

First we took off our shoes and walked around a traditional Maori meeting house. The walls were made out of traditional Maori weaving that must have taken a million hours to complete since it was hand woven. A lot of the history we had been taught the day before at Rotorua was applying in this museum too.

Next in the museum was my favorite part, the art gallery! I loved getting to see two different artist’s displays. The first was a local New Zealand who did Oil Painting in still life, plein air and abstract. Each type of painting was so vastly different for one artist. Though the abstract and still life were worth up to $10,000 each, I absolutely enjoyed his Plein Air pieces the most. Beautiful scenes of Lake Taupo, New Zealand farmland and common countryside barns had me captivated.

The second artist did African Batik paintings on stretched cloth. I really enjoyed this artist as well because she had a folky-whimsical style and used lots of bright colors. The artist was from Auckland but had spent many years living in Africa with her husband who was a surgeon. When she wasn’t working as his surgical nurse, she was sketching and painting.

The final stage of the museum contained the oldest Maori Waka in the area. A waka is a huge wooden canoe that he Maori used for transportation across the waters. The waka is often used as a symbol of unity because all passengers in the waka had to row their oars at the exact same time in order to get from point A to point B.

 

While walking through the museum we also saw exhibits telling the story of Taupo. I learned that timber and also fishing were huge economical foundations for the area. It was fascinating learning the history of the city and figuring out what made it tick just so. I couldn’t help but to think, “why couldn’t Frederick do this?” Why doesn’t the Tillman County Historical Society charge a $5 fee for every visitor. Why isn’t it so clearly marked that all visitors make it their first stop into town. Tourists love stories. They want to hear what makes our town click. They want to know what economic foundations started our community and what continues to fuel it now.

The entire town was easily marked for tourists. We knew where the big destinations were. We were given a paper map every time we asked for directions. Locals would tear them off and circle where we were and where we needed to go. I’ve said before, this is something Frederick needs. Whoever the last Chamber Director was should have got that done…tisk, tisk.

After the museum we wandered over across the street to “Ironman Park.” Sure enough, Amanda Sadler sat on stage with only seven other professional Ironman triathletes. The whole ordeal looked much like an ESPN session. People were taking photos and asking questions and the athletes were smiling and inspiring, which is what they do best.

Amanda seemed excited to see us—her two biggest fans—because we in fact flew all the way from the US to be there for her big race. She gave us big hugs and then we quickly asked questions and listened as she explained the ever-fascinating Ironman competition.

Per Amanda’s recommendation we decided to spend the afternoon at WAITAPO Thermal Park, just at the edge of town. After donning our suits we walked about a half mile down to an awesome site. Thermal pools, just as we had seen at Rotorua, except this time with lots of visitors swimming and bathing in them. We jumped in for a quick dip but quickly realized it was too hot for comfort on a warm New Zealand day. So we instead decided to take the one hour hike down to Huka Falls. Every turn of the hike was full of beautiful plants, water and shrubbery. We would hike for a while then stop and take pictures and soak in the beauty that was too good to seem real. Around 40 minutes in we started to wonder if the falls were worth the full hike but several other tourists walking by told us it was worth the extra hike.

Boy were they right, I have never seen such an amazing site. If you would have told me to hike an hour to look at water I would have told you you were crazy, but this was so beautiful it was worth it. The water was rushing so fast they said every minute it could fill up eight olympic-sized pools. That’s a lot of water! There were people camping everywhere and the beautiful green hills in the background just made the picture that much more beautiful.

The hike back was much shorter, probably because we weren’t stopping as much and we actually jogged parts of it.

When we finally arrived back to the house, Johnny and Maaike explained that they were having friends over for a barbie and that we were totally welcome to join in. So we showered and walked back to the corner liquor store for a bottle of wine to give to our hosts. The friends they had coming over was a man they had met while backpacking in another country and his new girlfriend they had yet to meet. Misha and Elise were their names and once again it felt like we had made fast friends. Misha was a tall, 100% New Zealand boy, full of orneriness and adventure. He had a loud laugh and a huge smile. Dinner was wonderful. Steak, sausage, fresh salad and twice baked potatoes. The only thing different from an American cook-out was the size of the steak. I guess everything really is bigger in America, because our steaks are normally about the size of our heads, where as the NZ steaks we ate were about the size of my palm. I enjoyed every bite and left nothing remaining on my plate.

Throughout dinner we discussed politics, traditions and culture. Maaike was actually Dutch and had married a kiwi. Elise was from Wellington, New Zealand and Misha was from Auckland. Throw in two Americans and you have some really great discussions.

We talked about how New Zealand is currently voting on a new flag. They are doing this to get rid of the Union Jack. Johnny and Maaike explained that the entire country could put in designs for the flag, then professionals dwindled the entries down to only five designs. The country then voted between the five designs and picked one design that could possibly be the new flag. This week the country would be voting on the old flag versus the new flag. How cool it was to hear about history being made right as we were visiting. I don’t yet know the outcome of the flag election, but I did notice there were dozens of places around the country that were already flying the new flag. Personally, I thought the new flag was much more conducive to New Zealand culture, at least what I had learned about it in my four days there.

We also talked about the American presidential race. They asked us about Trump and Obama and we agreed that our politics had become a bit ridiculous lately. Matthew showed our new friends a video of Trump defending his “tiny hands” that another candidate had insulted him about.

After lots of interesting discussions and observations, we all retired early so we could be up early for the Ironman beginning ceremonies at 6am.

New Zealand-Day 1

Kia Ora!

We arrived in New Zealand on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016. It is still crazy to me that we lost an entire day to the universe somewhere. I will never know what might have happened on March 2nd 2016.

The first 30 minutes of being in a foreign land was extremely hectic. After picking up our rental car we had to take a few pictures with the car because the steering wheel was on the right side of the car instead of the left. Before we could get over the novelty of that situation we had to quickly figure out how to drive on the left side of the road. We made a few laps around the parking lot and then decided to give it a go. The roads leading out of the airport were busy and crazy and Matthew was a little tense while first trying to turn into the left lane while sitting on the right side of the car. Within a few (meters) we ran into our first roundabout. I thought Matthew handled it quite well but he said he was a little freaked out.

We then spent the next fifteen minutes driving circles around inner-city Auckland before we finally figured out how to get out of the city and onto the highway towards Rotorua. A few minutes down the highway and the left hand side of the road was already feeling comfortable.

The foreignness of the land set in when we hit up our first quick stop of the journey. We walked in and there were rows and rows of pastries I’d never heard of. What really caught my attention was all of the beef pies. We quickly noticed that New Zealand loves their meat pies. We found them at every quick stop after that one. I opted for a pizza looking dish. When I went to pay with my credit card the clerk shook her head and I had to pay with my New Zealand cash I had pre-purchased at BancFirst. After Matthew paid we set down to eat and looked around for the first time and noticed everyone was extremely tall and in extremely short shorts–especially the men.

The pizza thing turned out to be a pizza-like crust topped with some kind of noodle, a tomato sauce, some kind of meat and some kind of fruit or vegetable, I’m not really sure which one. Though it was an odd concoction, it was actually quite tasty.

Somewhere in between Auckland and Rotorua we realized we were in a foreign country with absolutely no phone service. This was fine until we realized that meant no GPS, no google, no phone calls…nothing. Then we realized that even if we did have phone service we didn’t have anyone that we could call if something were to happen. This was mildly frightening, so we had to laugh about it.

An hour or so of driving and we were at our first destination, Rotorua. Of course our first stop was McDonald’s for free wi-fi. What’s was interesting was that the menu was way better than American mickey-D’s menu. They had loaded french fries with salsa and guacamole, a hokey-pokey shake, a burger with guacamole, chips and lots of vegetables on it and even scones! I decided to try a Fanta lime shake concoction. Surprisingly it was only $1 New Zealand Dollar. That’s about sixty cents in USD!

After connecting to the wifi we realized all that did was give us a chance to Facebook message some friends back home, so we did what all good tourists do and we picked up a handful of pamphlets for the area. Bungy jumping, ATV tours, geothermal walks and more! After discussing our options and comparing our budgets we decided to start off with a Maori walking tour. Thankfully the pamphlet had both a discount and directions to where we were going.

When we pulled up to the walking tour place we noticed a stiff smell of Sulphur. As we walked closer to the front desk the smell worsened. The lady greeted us and said the tour began in 3 minutes, so we walked across the street and joined a huge group of people who were already listening to a cute little tour guide. The tour guide was of the Maori culture, though he did not live in the village we were touring. He began the tour by pointing to a word with more syllables than Mary Poppin’s most famous song. He said that was the actual name of their village but they had shortened it to make it easier for us to remember. The shortened version was about seven syllables long. He taught us how to pronounce it and then let us over a bridge to a pool full of steam.

The pool was a natural pond and the steam was natural. I learned that a geothermal pool is a small natural pool that is heated by the earth’s magma. Most of the north island of New Zealand is full of dormant volcanos. This particular village was built around the craters of the volcanic holes. These holes were filled with warm water that would come out in steam or geysers. Some of the pools were over 50 feet deep and were so hot that they burned the thermometers that the scientists used to measure the heat and distance of the pool. Other pools were made from water that had trickled slowly from a bigger pond, these were about the size of a bath tub and the Maori people did in fact take their every day baths there when the tourists were gone. Even these baths had to be cooled down before the people could use them.

The back of the village was where the geysers lived. They shot off around the clock and got so high as eight feet into the air. After the tour we got to enjoy a traditional Maori show which included a love song and also a war dance. The Maori are known for sticking out their tongues and making crazy eye faces to scare off their opponents. They also shook their hands throughout the dance so as to bring “life” to their choreography.

After the show we went for a hike behind the village with a German couple we met. They were spending four weeks in New Zealand and had had a 30 hour flight from Germany. Apparently Europe is the farthest point on the map from Australia. At that moment I thanked God for our 12 hour flight.

After the hike we got to enjoy some traditional Maori corn which was cooked in a hot box. The hot boxes used for cooking were literally holes in the ground that had been boxed in with wood. The village people would wrap their food up in these pouches and then either through them in the box or throw them in the boiling hot pool for a few minutes, cooking the food entirely without boiling it. The corn was fabulous and the process was very intriguing.

Overall I learned quite a bit about the Maori people. I guess you could say the Maori are to New Zealand as the Native Americans are to America. They were the first to inhabit the land and so their tradition and culture is scene throughout the country. Everywhere we went following this tour we connecting the Maori history with the present day surroundings. The names of towns and streets were all Maori words. The opening ceremony for the Ironman race was a traditional Maori dance. Even the tattoos we saw were Maori inspired.

I learned a lot but I still have many questions to ask about the Maori heritage.

We loaded up from Rotorua and drive the remaining hour to Taupo where we would be spending the next three nights. After realizing we had an address with no means of finding it, we stopped for directions and were happily pointed to the street we needed. Of course, then we found the street and couldn’t figure out if it was the front house or the back house. We then realized we had the phone number for our host couple but we had no phone service to call them. I thought about using AirBnB messenger to contact them, but realized I had no wifi. So back in the car we went until we found a public library with free wifi. After connecting to the internet we realized that Maaike, our host, had already messaged us and told us where to find the key to the house. Finally, we made it back to the house and unloaded our things. The house was beautiful. The kitchen was lime green, the bathroom was bright purple and the shower room was bright orange. The front porch was full of beautiful green grass and shrubs and the back porch was a beautiful deck that looked out onto the mountains surrounding the area.

Maaike and Johnny walked in just a few minutes after us and greeted us warmly. They were a kind, adventurous couple who had dated for six years but just married in January of 2016. It quickly felt like they were close friends. They pointed us to the store behind the house that had the best fish and chips I’d ever ate, then they told us to make ourselves at home. Our first real meal in New Zealand consisted of corner store fish and chips paired with a bottle of New Zealand chardonnay. We ate our picnic dinner on the beautiful deck and were fully satisfied.

Day 1 was slightly stressful at first but considering it was my very first day abroad, I think it was very successful and not scary at all!