Lola & Toni in the Tonga

A Nice Visit
August 25, 2008, 2:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is just a short post about something that made me feel good the other day.  I know you are thinking, Trent sure is touchy feely…….ha ha, but it was something that made me feel good about what we are doing in the Peace Corps.

On Sunday, like most Sundays, Lara and I strolled over to the Dateline Hotel pool for a cold one and to relax by the pool…It has become one of our weekly treats.  Anyway, there were a group of women sitting by the bar, and when I heard one of them speak I had to ask where they were from.   Just to let you know, there are plenty of white (palangi) tourists that come through here, but rarely are they from the states.  Anyway, these ladies were all from Phoenix, AZ, here for a diving/underwater photography tour.  I introduced myself and told them why we were in Tonga.  As soon as we mentioned that we were PC volunteers, they paid for our beers.  They offered to buy us lunch (we declined for some reason), but most of all, they wanted to talk about our service and Tonga.  One of the goals of Tonga is to share the culture of the country we are serving with the people back home.  This was a great opportunity to do so, and they really wanted to know.

Anyway, it was nice to speak with someone outside of the organization about our experiences.  After we spoke with them for a while and were ready to head out, they said something that no one has said to me  before…..Thank you for what you are doing here and your service in the Peace Corps.  Someone was truly appreciative of the service we are providing.  It was really nice to hear.  Also, they were big Obama supporters!!!  Go Obama!


New Zealand Part 3
August 25, 2008, 2:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, apparently it takes more time to write about a vacation than it does to take one. There has been so much happening here that I want to take a last post to finish off our trip to NZ and get on with life that has already happened.

Well, after our wonderful visit to sulfur smelling Rotorua and a mud bath prior to getting in the Campervan, we decided to hit the East Coast with our destination of the day being Gisborne. Apparently, Gisborne is the Chardonnay capital of NZ and we thought a little winery hopping for free wine tastings was in order. After a drive to the North and lunch on the Bay of Plenty, overlooking White Island we were off to the South East. After a fairly grueling drive winding up and down mountains we hit Gisborne. We had heard there was an organic brewery in town and figured that would be a good stop for a post drive beer. Unfortunately, they only had dock sales, so we went to find our trailer park for the night. It was situated on a beautiful stretch of beach with good waves. Gisborne was also home to one of Captain Cook’s landing places. Man that guy got everywhere in the South Pacific! The weather was crap, even though the guidebook said this region from Gisborne to Napier (Hawkes Bay region) was supposed to be Mediterranean like. I didn’t realized it was that cold in the Mediterranean. Well, we decided to make a go of the area the next day. There was a good museum here that was of interest and of course the wineries. We checked out the Isite and found out the wineries were closed for the season unless you had made an appointment. Bad planning on our part I suppose, but we figured we could just drive up and request free samples at anytime. Well, the museum was great, and we did find out that the organic brewery offered free samples and also sold some good locally made wine. After a few selections, a couple purchases, we were off on the road again….South. Napier was the next town, and was also a very famous wine region in NZ. Napier is also known for it’s Art Deco architecture. Sometime in the 30’s, an earthquake destroyed most of the town, and it was rebuilt in this fashion.

Because of our museum venture and the incredibly windy roads, we hit Napier a little later than planned. We took a stroll through the art deco section admiring the architecture, and on to the beach. It was an incredible location but the town seemed excessively sleepy for being a big tourist destination. I guess that happens when you go at a time that is completely opposite to the tourist season. So, with time running out on our trip we had to decide if we would stay in sleepy Napier for another day or head down to Wellington. After much deliberation and checking on roads and routes (there were only two) we decided to haul ass to Wellington, and it ended up to be an excellent choice.

We had selected the closest place to stay in our campervan to Wellington, and because the roads were so good from Napier to Wellngton, we really made good time and arrived in early afternoon. With a bus stop right across the road, getting to town was convenient and quite fast. It was a beautiful day, and we were eager to get to town and check things out. With our mass of tourist info and our 5 year old Lonely Planet, we headed in. Ah, Wellington!! Another beautiful town set right on the water at the very Southern tip of the North Island. We headed to the waterfront for a stroll, where you could see the North end of the South Island, and what did we see staring us straight in the face????? Mac’s Brewery in all it’s glory. Needless to say, we were parched and this was like an oasis in the desert. After a sample of the beers at Mac’s, we headed on to find a store we were looking for, and a cruise down Cuba street. We found the store, and after much gawking at all the stuff and narrowing down our purchases, we headed off to the hip Cuba Street area. I have to say this about Wellington, it is pretty damn hip. After a stroll, we stopped at another pub to relax after our shopping spree and ended up befriending a nice local (homeless?) Maori man. Sam was his name, and he shared a nice blanket with us when the sun went down and it became cold. The next day, we couldn’t figure out what smelled like body odor until we remembered this wonderful blanket of Sam’s.

Next day in Wellington we awoke to pouring rain and the forecast of 140 km winds. I think that is pretty fast for kilometers. It was also our 10th wedding anniversary, and since the place we were parked was an extension of a hotel, Lara marched right in and booked a hotel room. I felt bad thinking that the van was a fine place to stay on our 10th anniversary, and finally agreed we should have proper accomodations. The hotel took pity on us and gave us a discounted rate and upgraded the room. It had even more amenities than the van did, including a huge spa tub in the upstairs bedroom. After a wonderful dinner, a soak in the tub (where we could watch tv from) and a movie, we planned the next day. Te Papa museum, or the National Museum was located on the waterfront, conveniently located right next to Mac’s brewery. The museum was huge, and free, or donation if you will. We spent the day touring around the museum and all the exhibits. It was so large we weren’t able to cover it all, but did spend quite a bit of time in the Maori sections. Wellington was one of our favorite places on the trip, and after an exhausting day, we decided to stay one more night if the hotel was willing to give us the same rate on the room.

The next day, the weather was still crap, but we head into town anyway. There is a cable car that goes to the top of Wellington with a beautiful view and a botanical garden. Unfortunately the view wasn’t that great, but it was well worth the trip up. We decided to walk back down and got caught in a torrential downpour. We huddled under Lara’s small umbrella for sometime until we decided it wasn’t getting better. So, through the rain we walked to the Wellington tattoo museum. I am not sure if you would call it a museum, but it had some good and bad pictures of very tattooed people, a good experience all in all. My brother Sean would have enjoyed it, and possibly would have had some work done. So after an incredible lunch and a relaxing evening in our hotel room, the Wellington stay was coming to an end. We only had a few days and wanted to get North of Auckland for at least one night.

So, off we went headed North with a couple of places in mind to stay. we figured two nights on the road, and the last night in the van we would be North of Auckland. On the road mountains started to come into view. Beautiful mountains that were incredible to see again after living on a flat little island in the middle of the Pacific. That night we headed to Ohakune, a small ski resort town at the base of the mountain. The area of NZ is also the carrot capital of the country. It was a great little town that reminded us of Sister’s, OR. There were little hiking trails all over the place, and we had a perfect spot set right next to a beautiful creek. We would have stayed here longer if we had the time. Oh, there was also a restaurant in town with the name “Beef and Beer”. How could we resist a place with a name like that. The service we crappy, but the food was delicious. The next day we were headed to Hamilton which I don’t have much to say about. It was essentially a stopover a little over half way to where we wanted to go the next day. I know I am leaving parts out, but I have to get on with things.

The last night in the van we stayed at a place called Pakiri Beach, about two hours North of Auckland.  This is one of those places that just feel special.  There was hardly anyone there, and so we were told we could take the best spot.  It was right on a small river that flows into the ocean right past us.  I know I have compared things in NZ to places in the NW, but this place also reminded me of a place called Whalen Island on the Oregon coast.  We relaxed on our chairs and stared out into the ocean while sipping on tasty beverages and snacking on food we would no longer have access to back in Tonga.  The day was wonderful with a nice walk up the beach and good company.  Then we saw the crazy people who think it is fun to surf in the middle of the winter.  Surfing in Hawaii is one thing, but New Zealand in the winter, now that is pretty crazy….and the waves weren’t even that good.  To each his own I guess.

Well, back to Auckland for one last night in the closet.  We did our final shopping, including loading up on chocolate (lots of it) and some good old NZ beef and lamb.  We weren’t sure about the regulations on bringing them into Tonga, but all the Tongans fill coolers with animal products when they leave NZ.  We would have bought much more if we knew there wouldn’t be a problem in customs with it.  Anyway, shopping all done, one last pub dinner, and back to pack.  I finished early, so Lara suggested that I go to the casino next door and play some blackjack.  I like to play cards, but I hate to lose money, especially when I am paid in Pa’angas.  So, I took a few bucks and found a good table.  Within an hour of playing I had too pee, and I wasn’t even drinking.  I looked down and noticed that I was about $300 up from where I had started.  I took that as a sign, cashed my chips, hit the bathroom and left with money in my pocket.  I think this is the first time in my life I have left a casino with more money than I walked in…..very proud of myself.  Also, this would pay for all the duty free shopping we would do on the way back…..

I think I am done with our NZ trip.  I missed a few things, but I probably put more than I should have in the posts.  I hope to get on and post more about what has been happening lately in Tonga.  We also have a bunch of pics that haven’t been uploaded to the new Picasa set yet either.  Keep an eye out, they should be up soon.

New Zealand – Part 2 – On the Road
August 6, 2008, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ok, we have been neglecting to finish our posting of New Zealand because of all that has been going on here in Tonga.  So, we need to catch up.

So, after our wonderful days and stocking up on food in Auckland, we went to pick up the wonderful campervan that we were to drive and sleep in for the next 11 days.  We decided that our destination for the day was to be Rotorua.  Rotorua is like the Yellowstone of New Zealand, and I was excited to see all the thermal activity.  But, before reaching the destination, we had to stop and check some things out.  Since we hadn’t planned an itinerary, we would sit down the night before, or the morning of, and decide the destination for the day.

First day on the road we had wanted to drive up the Coromandel Peninsula, but it would have been too much driving for Trent after not driving for 10 months, not too mention driving on the left side of the road…That was a little hard to get used to, but I got the hang of it after the first few hours.  So, we decided instead of driving the Coromandel Peninsula, we would stop at the base where the guide book said had great bird watching and a nice little bird blind you could sit in.  It was a beautiful day, and we were amazed at how quickly we were in rural country once we left the hustle and bustle of Auckland.  So we arrived in Thames and found the little bird blind that the book had mentioned.  Not only was there a bird blind, but a fun little train that you could ride.  We didn’t actually ride it, and later looking at the picture I was a little disappointed not to have.  Oh well, we did get to see some birds, and we were even able to identify them since there was information in the blind on all the birds you may see.  I never realized how thirsty bird watching makes you, but it does, so we headed out to find a good pub to quench our thirst before heading out again.  We found the perfect place with a nice fire roaring and a big screen tv with rugby playing (of course).  After our beverage, we only had one because we were driving (of course) we headed out to find the largest Kiwi fruit on the planet.

The Kiwi fruit of which we speak is on the Bay of Plenty where most of the kiwis are grown.  During this drive, we realized how great the roads were.  Even though they were mainly two lane roads once you left Auckland, they were amazingly maintained.  No potholes, plenty of places to pull over if you are driving too slow, and lots of places set up to pull over and eat lunch while overlooking some beautiful view.  Anyway, to get on with the story… We arrive at the visitors center for the Kiwi fruit, and sure enough, there is the biggest slice of kiwi I have ever seen…  We stroll into the visitor’s center were there is almost no one there, but it is still open.  We find that they have samples of wine and liquors made out of kiwis, and of course, kiwi fruit to sample.  Since almost no one is there, they pay special attention to us, and we leave having sampled everything at least once, and eating all the kiwi fruit samples.   Did you know there was three different kind of kiwi fruits?  Good thing we had only one beer in Thames and several hours in between our sampling frenzy, because the sun was dropping and we still wanted to get to Rotorua.

Safe and sound in Rotorua by the time the sun was fully down.  Rotorua was probably the coldest places we stayed on this trip, and after sunny, warm Tonga, it was a shock to our system.  Luckily, the holiday park we were staying in had outdoor thermal pools for its guest.   Put on a suit, grab a towel and out the van we went.  It was a great soak to end the longest day of driving we have had for over ten months.  So, we wake up to the wonderful smell of sulfur….we breath it in like it is fresh coffee brewing.  We look out the window and it looks like it has snowed, everything was white and frozen.   Luckily it was just frozen frost and it seemed like it was going to be a beautiful day.  With every piece of warm clothes on, we head out for a day of thermal activity…I was ecstatic..  The park we stayed at was right across the street from the Te Puia the gov’t run thermal area.  It was expensive and had all sorts of activities attached to the entry, and all I wanted was to see some geysers and bubbling pools…On we walked until we found what we originally set out to find, Whakarewarewa or the Living Village.  Conveniently enough, it was on the same thermal grounds at Te Puia, but it was a living Maori village and the price was half of the gov’t sponsored area.  We felt much better about paying less and having the money go to the actual Maori people who lived there.  The village was incredible, there were cooking pools that were still used by the people to cook food, and bathing pools that were used.  There were also geysers, bubbling pools, and a great cultural performance in a small venue.  The village functioned and was governed by the people who lived there, quite a nice setup.  The rest of the day we spent walking, eating and shopping.  We met a native Oregonian working at a bike shop, imagine that..Those Oregonians get around.   He also set us up with a great restaurant for lunch, and then we did a thermal walk around Lake Rotorua.  Finished up with some food shopping which became quite a fun event except that we wanted to buy everything in site, and headed back for some dinner in the van…..The next day we would be back on the road heading to the Hawkes Bay region and Chardonnay country on the East coast.

I have to stop for now, because even though I am a volunteer, I have some work to do.  I will finish up our trip later.  On a side note, it seems we have filled up all the space allowed on flickr for our photos, so I opened up an account on Picasa.  You can find the link on the left side of the page for more photos of our trip and more…  T&L