Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kia Ora! We're in New Zealand.

Mike's cousin Megan, his mom Joan and his dad John give us a warm send off.

Saying goodbye to Grandpa Williams in Charlotte, North Carolina

Arrival at LAX, Los Angeles

Waiting for The Westin hotel shuttle

Enjoying The Westin pool (Gregory went for a swim...)

Thumbs UP for Air New Zealand

Arrival in Auckland, New Zealand (North Island for an hour and a half lay over)

On the flight from the North Island to the South Island we watched sunrise over the clouds! Aotearoa is the Maori word for New Zealand. It means Land of the Long White Cloud.

We are at Biosecurity. They have taken our tent in the back room for inspection and a spray.

Catching the Metro from the airport to Christchurch City Centre

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 ~ Christchurch, New Zealand

Checking out cars at Turner's Auction

Gregory tries the Aboriginal instrument, the digeridoo

Jason seals the deal on our Nissan Bluebird Sedan

Gregory gives our "new" flash vehicle a good once over at the ezi wash.

First New Zealand boogie-boarding at New Brighton

Mike is keeping our new mat from blowing away. My ears were full of sand!

Do we look relaxed or what?

Gregory playing chess with our host Peter

Kia Ora and Welcome to the New Zealand portion of the Williams Family Adventure!!

We're settling in nicely here in Christchurch on the South Island! The weather here is brilliant. It is gloriously warm and our hosts told us that the day we arrived, on Tuesday, February 23rd, was one of the nicest days they have had this summer. (They are nearing the end of summer here.) We slept with the windows wide open (no window screens) and a lovely breeze all evening. Bugs aren't much of an issue here on the East coast but we'll let you know about the sand flies on the west coast when we get there! We bought head nets just in case.

Our flight on Air New Zealand was excellent. We left LAX at about 8:00 PM and they fed us a delicious dinner right after we left including a lovely Merlot from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Gregory especially enjoyed the fact that we each had our own video screen in the seat back in front of us. We each chose a couple of movies from the wide selection and then got some shut eye. Fortunately the plane wasn't too full and Gregory was able to spread out over 3 seats and had a nice rest. Mike and I slept sitting up, waking now and then to adjust, but were surprised when the cabin lights came on and the captain announced that we would land in Auckland in about an hour and they were ready to serve breakfast! (The flight was 12 hours 50 minutes long!) We had another terrific meal including omelets, potatoes, tomatoes, fruit and beverages and then, after an hour and a half layover in Auckland, they once again fed us on the hour flight to Christchurch! There was french press coffee, blueberry muffins and muesli with yogurt and fruit! As we flew from the North Island to the South Island we enjoyed a breathtaking sunrise above a sea of clouds. Did you know that New Zealand is the first country to see the sunrise?

We happily shed our jackets and long sleeves and caught a bus to Burnside High School where our host is employed. He offered to have us drop our bags before we went into Christchurch City Centre to shop for a car. Remember it is just around 8:00 AM on February 23rd now and we have a full day ahead of us! The High School was quite impressive with many approximately 2,600 students and a wide range of activities for the grades 9-13 students. I asked our host Peter, who is a chemistry teacher, how engaged the year 13 students are and he said that he finds his older students to be more engaged than the younger ones. I kept thinking of how restless American seniors are in year 12 and wondering about adding another year in the states. The schools here are highly regarded and many Asian families bring their children here to pursue their studies. Gregory and I watched the students file out of classes on Tuesday and noticed most students where uniforms. We found later that year 13 students can wear what they like. Girls had the choice of an above the knee green skirt or full length plaid skirt with a short-sleeved white blouse and cardigan sweater while boys wore shorts or slacks, white shirts and knee-high gray socks with black shoes. As in American many were talking on their phones and carried skateboards or sporting equipment. A quick flip through the yearbook in the lobby found sports such as cricket, trampoline, table tennis, rugby, basketball, hockey, swimming, water polo and more. They also have an excellent music program.

We took the "Red Bus" into Christchurch and then another Metro out to Turner's Auction to look at cars yet found only one possibility in our price range. We opted not to return to the auction that evening and instead went out Wednesday morning to the used dealers. The first dealer didn't have anything for us but he sent us down the road where we had some luck. We opted to take a drive in the only car that would suit the bill even though at almost $3,000NZ it was a bit more than we wanted to spend. We agreed we liked it but Mike was ready to continue the hunt since it was only the first car we'd looked at. I said to our salesman, "You know Jason, you could save Gregory and I a lot of walking today if you could come down to $2,500..." His replied, "I don't think I can come down to that..." and before he had a chance to mull it over Gregory pipes up, "How about $2,700?" Mike and I really have to teach Gregory the subtle art of haggling! Well, Jason said he probably could do that and went in to check the numbers. Before we knew it we were zipping the credit card through the machine and purchasing a Nissan Bluebird Sedan! At $2,700NZ that is about $1,900US. Jason also skimmed the brakes and installed new pads and did an oil change. He dropped us down the road a piece to do a bit of shopping at the mall and picked us up around 2:00 P.M. and we were good to go!

After the ezi car wash were off to New Brighton beach where Gregory had a go at boogie boarding. The wind was up and before I knew it he was being blown quite a ways down the beach. With not an ounce of fear he continued to go out to try to catch the bigger waves and as I wasn't able to get his attention I almost had to go in after him. Mike was watching from up the beach and was ready to take the plunge also. Fortunately, he saw me and came in and was content to put his new bucket and shovel to use. The wind was really whipping up the sand and we had sand in every crevasse after a couple of hours.

Back at the house it was our turn to prepare tea (dinner) and though our hosts declined dessert Mike and Gregory did partake in Hokey Pokey ice cream and Tim Tams. Though I was exhausted and ready for bed Mike and Gregory stayed up to watch Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring, which was primarily filmed in New Zealand. I guess I should say Gregory stayed up because Mike said he fell asleep on the couch! Where do these kids get their energy?

Today we depart Christchurch and head north up the eastern coast. We look forward to meeting more friendly kiwis (as New Zealanders are known) and exploring this beautiful country!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Adventure Continues Down Under

Hello there! We've had a nice visit with Grandma and Grandpa in North Carolina and I've had my "blogging break" so now it is time to update you on the next leg of our adventure. We depart Charlotte, NC on Saturday, Feb. 20th at 6:10P.M. and arrive in Los Angeles for an overnight stay before departing for New Zealand at 7:30P.M. on Sunday the 21st. 12 hours, 55 minutes later we arrive in Auckland, NZ (North Island) for an hour and a half layover before departing for Christchurch (South Island). After another hour and 20 minutes in the air we finally arrive at 8:20 A.M. on Tuesday, February 23rd! Whew. We lose a whole day! We will have a month and a half to explore the South Island before departing for Sydney, Australia on Sunday, April 11. We then will have 3 months in Australia before returning to San Francisco, California on Saturday, July 10th!

We really had a tough time deciding whether or not to bring the bicycle with us for this leg of our journey. After much research and consideration (communicating with Aussies, etc.) we decided that we would leave the bike in the U.S. The fact that the bike is a road bike vs. a mountain bike came into play because of the many unsealed roads and narrow or non-existent shoulders and the lack of secondary roads such as we have in the United States. We considered the limited flexibility with such a long rig and the distances between towns. We have found that we enjoy cycling much better when we aren't pushing ourselves to do such big miles and we would certainly be forced into that situation in Australia. I have to admit that the uncertainty about how my knees would hold up was also a consideration.

For months Mike has been telling me I needed to leave a post and that I sort of left you all hanging. I apologize for that and will reiterate here how much we enjoyed our cross-country tour despite some of the struggles near the end. The journey is the destination and what a journey it has been.

Gregory and I recently finished reading The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and the last pages held some words that seemed quite poignant to me. The main character Jody is talking with his grandfather whose biggest adventure in life was leading a wagon train west across the United States. He says, "When we saw the mountains at last, we cried—all of us. But it wasn't getting here that mattered, it was movement and westering (westward movement)...We carried life out here and set it down the way those ants carry eggs. And I was the leader. The westering was as big as God, and the slow steps that made the movement piled up and piled up until the continent was crossed."

We are ready for the movement to begin again and so the journey continues.