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Vanesa/ Nicole’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 28 Oct 2009

Location: Whitianga, New Zealand

MapKia-ora,

As you already guessed we have arrived safe and sound in beautiful New Zealand. We can not even give this island justice in our descriptions of the landscape. We have only been here three weeks, but love it already. During our time here so far we have had the chance to see most of the North Island. We highly overestimated the size of this Island. Apparently the North Island is smaller then Lake Superior, who knew? We don't actually know if that is fact, just what we have heard.

We spent the first couple of days in Auckland, which pretty much is a smaller version of Toronto so we quickly moved on. So we rented a car, not just a car at station wagon, who knew those were still in? Papers signed, car checked, insurance bought, we are now ready to go. First step: Put luggage into the trunk. Seems easy enough, well wouldn’t you know we spent a whole 5 minutes trying to figure out how to open the trunk. When finally Nicole got up the courage to ask the guy at the front counter, as she was approaching the guy Vanesa yells out “I got it.” We are now in the car and ready to go, I think! Right, the driver’s seat is on the other side of the car. I knew that, but what I didn’t know was that the windshield wipers and signal lights were reversed. This should be fun. Is there anything else different that I need to know? Please don’t tell me that the gas pedals and breaks are reversed also. Phew, they are not. Ok, I think we are ready to go. Nicole? Driving on the left hand side of the road is not bad at all, actually after about 10 minutes into the ride Vanesa got the hang of the reversed signal lights and it felt like we had been driving on that side our whole life.

So about an hour into a trip we decided to stop for a coffee. Coffee... Let me rephrase that we mean espresso. Coffee does not exist in their vocabulary here. If you want a coffee you have to ask for a long black. So after about 10 minutes at the front counter trying to decipher what to order, Vanesa gets a soy mocha and Nicole orders her drink and we go sit down. 5 minutes later we get our drinks, Vanesa gets her mocha and Nicole gets her, what is that? It is so tiny. So apparently Nicole ordered a shot of espresso. When I say shot, I mean shot. One gulp and she was done.

Northland is probably the most gorgeous part of the North Island, in our opinion. Mountainous landscapes, sandy beaches, palm trees, sheep and a whole lot of accents. We began our Northland journey in a little town called Warkworth. Apparently we picked a good time to go as there was the Kowhai Festival going on. Not that we know what that means, but it was a cute little festival. We continued our trip up north where we ended up in Pahia - Bay of Islands where we both fell in love 144 times. (That is the number of islands in the bay, not the number of men in the town.)

We didn't have much time to explore before we jumped right into tourist mode on a boat cruise out to sea. Captain makes an announcement “For those wearing hats please be advised that it can get very windy and your hat may fly off during this trip. If this happens to you put your hand up, and then I will put my hand up, at this point we will get everyone else to put their hands up, then we will all wave your hat goodbye." All we can say about this boat cruise is... GORGEOUS. We got to see dolphins, a house where the Queen of England stayed, a big hole in the rock and some amazingly beautiful scenery.

Day two in the Bay of Islands took us on an 11 hour bus ride up to the northern most tip of the island. We started the day bright and early on a bus full of elders with a tour guide named Spike. Wait are we on the right bus? A tour guide name spike and a bus full elders, we are in for one wild day. Can’t wait to watch them go sand boarding!

Morning tea is the first stop on the agenda. Yes, I know we sound retired. After our tea stop we are on to ninety mile beach. NOTE: Ninety mile beach, not ninety miles long. This is an enter at your own risk area. Spike says “If you look to the left you will see a few steering wheels of cars that though they could make the drive.” Apparently your car hire insurance doesn't cover any incidents that happen on ninety mile beach. Good thing that we were told this in advance. We didn't quite understand this, but we decided to book a tour to be safe. Good thing we did, or else we too could have got stuck in the quick sand.

After we completed the 64 miles, yeah that's right, ninety mile beach is only really 64 miles long. The first settlers to find this beach walked for 3 days down it and estimated it was approximately 90 miles long. Years later, someone decided to drive down it and discovered that really it was only 64 miles long. Well because Australia has an eighty mile beach, New Zealand could not be beaten, so they kept the name of the beach as ninety mile beach. That was the random fact for the day, now on to the rest of the day.

Around the corner were some sand dunes. Time for sand boarding! Nicole was a pro. She was the only one brave enough to race the tour guide. Spike has only done this 480 – 500 times, but he is no match for Nicole. Ready, set, go... and they’re off. After a bit of a rough start Nicole finally got going, but Spike already had a commanding lead. Mid way down the hill Nicole had some technical difficulties and a couple of flips later she ended her run while Spike continued to the bottom and into the stream. Nicole ended up doing a face plant in the sand. Thankfully the only thing that got bruised was her ego.

On to Cape Reinga we went. This is the most northern tip of the Island where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. There is a very nice lookout and a beautiful old lighthouse at the point. Cape Reinga is so sacred that you can not even bring food there as it will disrupt the spirits. On our way home we stopped off at New Zealand’s rain forest where we got to see the largest Kauri tree. We couldn't even put our arms around a quarter of the base of this tree, that is how large it was.

Apparently we were such a hit on this trip that some of the individuals on the bus nominated us to make the thank-you speech to the bus driver. Nicole felt like she would ramble too much, so that left Vanesa to make the speech. Short, sweet and to the point.

The rest of our vacation was spent exploring and sightseeing the central part of the island where we met up with Julie Black (Cynthia’s sister) and her fiancé Mike. We have never met two more hospitable people in our entire life. Julie showed us around Hamilton, took us shopping, and took us to Raglan (the best surfing spot in New Zealand), as well as Mt. Maunganui where Mike’s grandma has a batch. NOTE: Batch = Camp, Cottage or Summer Home. They were gracious enough to drive us all the way up to Whitianga (which is pronounced Fitianga, apparently in the Maori language Wh = a F sound.) On our way up to Whitianga we got to briefly see Whangamata, Hot Water Beach and Hahei before getting to the cafe.

Outside the cafe is a beautiful garden full of sculptures. In the back there is a trampoline and play area with toys for the children. The signs on the outside of the cafe are so bright and colourful portraying a fun, lively atmosphere. Inside matched the signs with artsy collages, artwork completed by local artists and vibrant colours. Entering the cafe there was a gentlemen standing at the front cash. Vanesa asked him if Jason was around and he enthusiastically replied with “Oh, you must be the Canadians.” We met our bosses Paul and Jason and they took us on a tour of the restaurant and then showed us to our flat. Here we are flatmates, not roommates. Sweet az! Our flat matches the cafe to a T. Colourful with yellow, reds and blues. It is very spacious and cozy with all the necessary amenities.

We have it pretty well here. Free accommodations, a meal a day which is to die for (all organic), paid to work, and living right on the beach. The only down fall is that we are a ways away from the grocery store, but we have come up with a good plan to get our groceries back. We go shopping with our small suitcases. At the end of our shopping we put all our groceries in the suitcases so that we do not have to carry them 4 km back. We learnt this the hard way our first time and Vanesa ended up covered in bruises from the heavy bags.

We are a week into the job and our bosses are fantastic. We are enjoying the work as it keeps us on our toes with challenges. On Sunday we served 109 lunches with only the two of us as servers. As you can tell this cafe is one of the most popular places to eat in all of New Zealand with individuals coming from all over the world. Each month they have live musicians come in and the first Sunday of every month is a jam session for all the local artists. Some events that we have coming up which we will be helping with are themed events, the Melbourne cup, All Blacks Rugby games, and some art shows. There seems to be never a dull moment at this cafe which suits our personality’s just fine.

Right off the bat, town seemed pretty quiet and we were a little scared. After talking to one of the chefs at the restaurant she suggested a youth group that we should help out with. So Nicole went and checked it out on her night off. So we are now involved with helping out at community events and have met some friends our age.

Stay tuned for more interesting adventures, we will try to keep this updated as much as possible now that we have settled in one spot for awhile.