New Zealand may be famous for its silver ferns, but we found gold ones.
On our way to hang with twelve dancing princesses in the Hunua Ranges. ;)
We've been lucky to live within steps of a nature reserve. (Granted that does mean extra mosquitoes when hanging out on the porch at night, but nothing is perfect.) Beaches come with so much work (getting sand out of your clothes, constant sunscreen application, burning anyway) that as much as I love and appreciate all the beautiful beaches, nothing can beat the cool shade of a dense forest. Needless to say, having one right outside my door has been my own little version of heaven. In moments when I've felt stressed, overwhelmed, cynical, or any other choice sentiment from the emotional grab bag of adult life, these woods have been a balm to my wounded sense of wonder. I love the hypnotic, mythical bird songs, the helicopter-like flutter of wings flapping at high speed overhead, and even the relentless buzz of what must be a million cicadas. And I love all the damp, earthy smells that change with the seasons. On one walk, right around Christmas, I swear I could smell cinnamon, and then later on, ginger. I rounded a corner on the path and found this:
I had no idea what ginger and ninjas had to do with each other (aside from being famously Asian) until I found this article from the Wanganui Chronicle:
What a delicious problem. I'd be happy to take some of that extra ginger off their hands--you know, to help the cause.
Another day I took a different turn on my hike and the woods opened up into this flowery clearing.
Suddenly I looked up and found myself face to face with this beauty. In that moment I would not have been surprised if a pegasus had swept me up and sequestered me off to some enchanted castle where I would sleep for 100 years and...you see where this is going.
In that moment it felt like magic had not abandoned me. As we get older I think we need those moments more than ever.
So thanks, woods. You've been good to me.
Josh passes a cat cafe every day on his way to work, but we had no idea until a blog entry by The Curious Kiwi pointed it out to us. The place is tucked in the middle of a busy industrial neighborhood that's so unremarkable it still took us a minute to find even after we knew it was there.
There's a separate dining area to use if you prefer to eat/drink sans felines, but the basic premise is to have coffee while enjoying the company of a room full of cats. This idea is genius for so many reasons. First of all, it never hurts to have a gimick. If I have a choice between going out for a coffee and going out for a coffee WHILE snuggling a kitten, I will choose to have a snuggle with my coffee every time. It also means I can enjoy a little furry company, but never have to clean up after them or worry about who will check on them when I'm on vacation. It's like being an aunt: you get all the fun, and none of the hassle. It's an especially perfect arrangement for us because Josh adores cats, but is also miserably allergic to them. Coming here meant we could enjoy them but then bolt when things started to go itchy and runny. Lastly, if you're a cat, living here is like winning the lottery. It's full of toys, playmates, nooks to explore, and it has drawbridges!
I was also really surprised at how clean it was. The only thing that could possibly make this a better idea is if they used the cafe as a vehicle to find homes for cats who need them, because I'm sure they would get adopted in a heartbeat.
Of course, once you live in this magical cat playground, nobody's house is going to be able to top it.
I found one cat just staring at a corner, really intensely. I thought it was a little strange until I read the sign just above him. I forget exactly what was on the sign, but it went something like this:
If you see a black and white cat staring at the wall, don't worry, he's not catatonic. He just really misses Mike, whose office is on the other side. He's not allowed in the office, so pick him up and give him some love. He'll feel better.
Ok, the sign did not actually say "catatonic"--but come on, serious missed pun opportunity there.
Also, just the fact that this sign had to exist is seriously adorable. Just look at him: so full of devotion and yearning that his little cat heart might explode.
All this cuteness doesn't come free though, there is an admission fee. Josh and I went on Friday night, when they offer you a dinner deal to go with it. It's not a ton of food, but the whole thing isn't a terrible deal considering how expensive eating out in NZ tends to be. Also, this place is really popular so unless you're planning to go in the middle of the day on a Tuesday, you have to book in advance. That takes some of the fun out of it for me. Part of what makes this kind of thing enjoyable is the spontaneity. You'd never put "eat an ice cream cone" on your calendar. It's practically made to be a whim. Like scheduling ice cream cones, booking time with cats feels weird.
That said, ice cream is still delicious, and cats are still cute--scheduled or not.
If you're local and want more information the above button links to the blog we found it on.
Ok, I'm going to get artsy on your for a minute: I love the painterly way the fronds overlap and crash into each other and the kind of pulsating, outward movement in it. Always love a pretty tree.
This photo also courtesy of the Hunua Ranges and Josh Salim.
This year is the first time Josh has ever had a birthday in summer, so I wanted to take full advantage. I had a lot of ambitious ideas, but as teaching swallowed more and more of my time those crucial planning hours evaporated in front of me. Suddenly it was Friday afternoon--the day before we had to leave--and I barely had a plan. So, at the eleventh hour, this is where we landed.
By the way, if you're looking for a cheap way to spice up any special occasion, add two types of public transport and a blindfold. Passersby were really into it, shouting, No don't go that way! Danger! Josh wouldn't stop guessing where we were going, and every time he got close I'd laugh nervously, so then I had to start laughing nervously at everything just to cover it up. It turns out I can be a really terrible liar. We got a little carried away with the game walking from the bus to the ferry, and with 5 minutes left to board we had to run to the boat. At this point I could have let him take the blindfold off, but I hate to ruin a surprise, so...instead I put one hand on my shoulder, grabbed the other and said, Josh, we're going to run.
I am married to the best sport on Earth because--we did. We ran. And no one died.
We landed on Waiheke and went straight to ziplining. Here's what I've learned from the experience: it's mildly terrifying for the first few seconds, then it's amazing. You stabilize. For a moment, careening through the air becomes normal. You look down at the canopy dipping far below you and it's breathtaking. Then your realize you're rushing at high speed towards a platform on the other side and your heart jumps into your throat like you're seconds from death. So that's the formula: mildly terrifying, then awesome, then actually terrifying.
I found the key to this last part was turning around at the last moment so you come in backwards and you can't see when you're going to stop.
If there's no time to react, there's no time to panic.
They're not kidding when they say it's addictive. That moment in the middle--that moment of amazing when you're flying through the air like a god--that's the part you come away with. After three different runs, we didn't want to stop. We were ready to zipline everywhere.
Here's the fastest zip we did, at 60 kilometers per hour. I'll warn you, I scream through a lot of it. You can tell the part when it hits "amazing" by when I start laughing in between screams.
Things go slightly wrong.
So here was where poor planning started to take its toll. After we finished zipping and hiked back to the starting point, we took a shuttle into Oneroa and walked to where we were staying for the night. I booked us a tiny cabin at a backpacker's outside of town called the Fossil Bay Lodge. Turns out, it's also a local Kindergarten. As if New Zealand wasn't already cute enough.
Unfortunately plans of us in a tiny blue cabin were never meant to be. We arrived only to realize that I'd booked for the wrong night, and they weren't expecting us until the next day. Summer Saturdays are busy, so they were completely booked up! It was going to be near impossible to find another place to stay on the island on such short notice. Thankfully, Kiwis always seem happy to roll with the punches, and the owner was able to offer us a storage space they'd been renovating into a little apartment. Our bed was just a foam mattress on the floor but it was comfortable enough, and we had our own bathroom. It turned out to be a nice setup.
The road to fanciness is long and confusing.
I planned just enough time for us to walk from our hostel to our fancy vineyard dinner reservations. Unfortunately, since I threw this all together in an hour the day before, I just printed myself a map and ran out the door. I didn't expect that the map and the directions would be so out of sync! Given the choice between the two, I usually trust a map, but in this case it was the wrong choice. It took us 20 minutes in the wrong direction!
So there we were, two minutes shy of our reservation and in the completely wrong part of town. We stopped to ask for directions and wound up catching a ride to the vineyard.
Again, a Kiwi saves the day.
Waiheke has its more modest side: it's home to plenty of lower income families and what is possibly the world's smallest used car dealership (a grand total of three cars), but it's also rife with vineyards and million dollar holiday homes. The restaurant where we had dinner was firmly on the fancy side of the spectrum.
I have to admit, as much as I live for good food and beautiful scenery to look at while I'm eating it, expensive restaurants make me feel like I'm taking a test. How do I need to speak/sit/stand/walk/order/pretend not to care about the prices/use a fork to pass? And is "pencil shavings" something I want my wine to taste like? I asked the waitress, and she didn't really get it either. The food was really delicious, but not so delicious that we didn't enjoy the next morning's normally priced breakfast even more. (Although it's really hard to compete with breakfast. #BreakfastIsSexy) The best part was the otherworldly view. I know I keep saying it, but I can't stop thinking about how bright the sun is here, and how completely that changes the mood of everything it touches. It turns shadows on the wall into detailed, ever-changing landscape paintings, and it makes everything around you seem slightly off, so it feels possible that you're not on Earth at all--that you're actually having dinner off somewhere on Naboo or in King's Landing or in some other fantasy world--that what you're looking at is not the sun, it's a star.
And we didn't walk home under the moon. It was a moon.
Like our photos?
You can thank the talented
Josh Salim for taking most of them. Check out his other work at joshsalim.weebly.com
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