Monday, November 22, 2010

Ka Kite Ano, New Zealand

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As the Maori would say, “Until we come back”, New Zealand! It's hard to believe our time in New Zealand has ended. We have only great memories from our time there. It's the first time in a long time that I have seen Evan come home from work not stressed and not tired!

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Hamilton was a personable, quirky, and overall lovely place to live. The Waikato River runs through the center of town with walking trails on either side. Hamilton Gardens, “World Famous in New Zealand” was so much more than we expected. We went to the public garden expecting local flora and some nice flowers. We were amazed at all the different types of gardens: Italian, Chinese, English, Japanese, Indian, Maori, sustainable, herb, and more (I can't even remember all the types!) Downtown Hamilton was a fun place to grab a beer at one of the several pubs, eat al fresco, or (and this is Hamilton's TRUE claim to fame) take your picture with the Riff Raff statue and practice dancing the time warp! Apparently Richard O'Brien, writer of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is a native son of Hamilton---how fun is that?

Hamilton Scenery

Now if you ask Brendan what the best part of Hamilton is, he would yell, “Waikato Rugby Union”. Brendan went to their last game of the season with Evan's boss, John Bonning, who is the team physician. He then CHEERED (“rooted” is not a word we would use down here as it has risque connotations!) the team through the national finals. Go Mooloo!

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One of the joys of traveling is meeting other travelers and locals. We spent a weekend in New Plymouth with the Petty family. This delightful family opened their home to us and showed us amazing hospitality. The funny thing is that we had never met them before going to New Plymouth! We connected with them through a friend of mine from college who knew them when they were part of the ex-pat community in Saipan. New Plymouth lies at the base of Mount Taranaki, which is currently a dormant volcano.

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We hiked through “goblin” forests (moss covered gnarled trees with hobbits hiding behind them) and crossed mountain streams. Once again, the kids did great and have become quite intrepid hikers!

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Our last weekend was spent in Auckland. After touring Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World (cute penguins!), we had a lovely brunch with the Rangers, also friends of friends, at Mission Bay.


Afterwards, we did a walking tour of the city, first taking a break for some refreshments at the Belgian Beer Cafe, and then ending up at a Mexican restaurant. Yum, fajitas!

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This was one of the few Mexican restaurants we've seen “Down Under”, so we HAD to stop in for some cheese dip and margaritas. Our day was topped off by viewing Auckland at night from the Auckland tower---beautiful!

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Day 2 in Auckland was great, too. The Auckland Museum rocks!

Auckland Museum

It has the best collection of Maori and other South Pacific taronga (treasures) that I've ever seen. We loved the earth science area with displays ranging from a volcano demonstration to the strata of a coral reef, and the kids' section (wild and wonderful) was so great that we had a hard time getting the kids to leave. If you're going to be in town, put this on your agenda.

We ended our weekend in Auckland with a hike up One Tree Hill (as in the U2 song). Although Evan was a bit over the top by playing the song on his i-pod the entire hike, it set the mood perfectly.

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Evan working, while fabulous for our checking account, put a real kink in our traveling time. We were limited to overnight trips to location within several hours driving distance. We missed out on several sites on the North Island including Wellington and Raglan Beach, not to mention many others that would have made nice side trips had time permitted. We did not make it to the South Island at all. So, ultimately, the only way we could see to do justice to say we've truly visited New Zealand is to go back. Thus, in late February, when Evan's done working, but before we start off on our 'Round the World part of the trip, we're heading back for a quick 9-10 day jaunt to Wellington and the South Island to cram in as much of the country as we can. Who knows? That may STILL not be enough.


We returned to Australia on November 18 to meet my father, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for some “holidays” before going back to Port Macquarie to work! Stay tuned for later blogs on more Aussie adventures!

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Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's not to love about New Zealand?

*As always, click on the pictures for bigger versions and to go to the flickr page with lots more photos.

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Welcome to the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa (in Maori), EnZed in local slang or just New Zealand, as we commonly know it. After 2 months in Australia, we headed for greener pastures! Admittedly, having 2 months off to travel and relax in Australia was great, but our savings were taking a beating. Evan's licensure for Australia was “still in progress”, so we grabbed an opportunity for him to work in New Zealand, where licensing moved at a much quicker pace.

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On October 16 we arrived in Auckland. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but even then, the mountains were a lush, glowing green. We grabbed our hospital arranged rental car and headed to Hamilton, which is about 2 hours south of Auckland and checked into the Camelot Motor Inn, our “home away from home” in New Zealand.

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The drive down was quite beautiful with volcanic peaks covered in tree ferns and verdant pastures with sheep everywhere. NZ is the peculiar mixture of Scotland (crags), Hawaii (waterfalls, volcanoes), British influence, and Maori culture. As odd as a blend as that sounds, it all works.

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Arriving over the weekend gave us a chance to meet an online Prius friend of Evan's, Sam. Sam is an ex-pat from New Mexico who has lived in NZ for 16 years. A psychology professor officially, he and his family live on a traditional NZ farm with sheep, horses, and chickens. The kids loved the opportunity to feed the orphan lambs and cuddle “Bear”, the miniature pony.

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We spent the rest of the day in Cambridge, a very English town with an Equestrian bent, visiting the tiny museum, buying local produce, and having a lovely lunch at a Thai/NZ fusion restaurant. (Our orders ranged from battered mussels and chips to a mussel frittata to green chicken curry!) It was a wonderful,eclectic day, and after that, we were hooked on New Zealand!

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Tuesday was a bit of 'back to reality'. Evan met his contact at the hospital and began getting oriented for work. (Yeah, finally a job!) At that point, it had been two and a half months since his last patient contact. Actual work started on Friday just a few hours after final approval of his credentials and indemnity insurance. The hospital has the busiest emergency department in all of New Zealand, being the only major hospital in the area. Also, being that they have a public health care system here, things operate quite differently from the US--some for the better, some for the worse. The quality of care delivered and the expertise of the physicians is quite excellent. Every patient has a general practitioner whom they can see for a minor copay. Specialist care is a tougher task, though, sometimes with very long waits. A lot of unnecessary tests are not done because they work on a system of protocols and guidelines. (Ah, the joys of not having to practice defensive medicine since there is essentially no malpractice suits.) That said, there's no room for a physician's 'gut feeling' about things and obtaining advanced tests in marginal cases is almost impossible in the ED.

The work in the ED is chaotic, disorganized, and inefficient by US standards. Lots of minor tasks are done by the physicians. However, there are a lot of physicians because almost every hospital serves as a training facility. Evan's roll is equivalent to an attending for the residents and interns in a US training hospital. Thus, he only sees a handful or two of patients per shift, but there are other responsibilities for supervision, problem solving, etc. that take a lot of time. There is a, essentially, “mandatory” lunch break for all staff, and the nurses take two 15 minute 'tea breaks' per shift. The patients are very appreciative, even when they wait. And, as everywhere in Australia and New Zealand, almost everyone we meet is extremely nice, helpful and happy.

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

Now, back to the fun part...on Evan's first day off, we drove south an hour or so to Waitomo caves. These caves are river caves and have beautiful white calcite formations, but are more well known for their glow worms. These larvae of the fungus gnat make long strands of mucus (looks like strings of pearls) and have a continuous glowing posterior to attract insects. As gross as this sounds, it's really quite lovely. We had a small boat ride through the cave looking at the roof of the cave with thousands of small glowing blue lights. This is somewhat similar to a cross between a lightning bug and a spider.

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

[blue dots are the glow worms]

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

For Evan's first weekend off, we headed over to Rotorua. This area is known for its geothermal activity---geysers, mud pots, thermal pools, and the dreaded pervasive sulfur smell. Rotorua is also known as a center for Maori culture. We were lucky enough to experience both! Our hotel overlooked Te Puia, the geothermal park.

[that's our hotel in the background]

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Besides Te Puia, we visited Te Wairoa, an excavated Maori village that had been buried in a volcanic eruption in 1886.

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We also went to the Tamaki Brothers' Maori village and hangi (meal). This was really great. The evening started off with the traditional Maori warrior challenge and greeting.

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Then, village had interactive displays with personnel to explain and demonstrate aspects of Maori life---tattooing, Warrior training, use of the club, food preservation, etc. (It was kind of like a Maori Silver Dollar City without the rides.)

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The hangi is where food is cooked in a pit in the ground with hot rocks. They served lamb, chicken, mussels, fish, and root vegetables like kumara and carrots. Yum!

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To top off our visit to Rotorua, we decided to do the luge. It was a gondola ride up the mountain then 2 quick trips down the mountain on an asphalt path riding a specially designed “luge” with wheels. The team of Dad and Amarra were first every time! Next time perhaps we'll try the Zorb---the human hamster ball!

Tamara's Rotorua

Overall, we love New Zealand. It's everything you imagine and more. The kids and I will continue to explore Hamilton while Evan is working and try to see more sites around the North Island when he's off. We've already realized that we can't even begin to see everything we want, so we'll have to plan another trip here!

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More on our further New Zealand experiences later!