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Shane & Norma

16 Blog Entries
2 Trips
219 Photos


"Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
Haley & Dad in The Land of the Long White Cloud - 2014

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All Over The Map

Adelaide, Australia

Busy days and limited internet access has made it difficult to keep up with blogging. All the same, irregular entries won't hold anyone's interest. Let's go with a random smattering of photos from NZ's Northlands, Samoa and Tasmania...




permalink written by  Shane & Norma on September 15, 2009 from Adelaide, Australia
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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Exploring Coast, Culture and Caves - North Island, NZ

Waihou, New Zealand

Finally! Another long overdue blog entry from down under!

The flu/cold bug hunted us down at Waihi Beach and we quarantined ourselves in the bach for several days. Hot rums and pharmaceuticals allowed us to recoup and continue with our explorations, despite the nagging cough that stayed with Norma for several weeks afterwards.


We managed to see both coasts of the Coromandel Peninsula with its winding, narrow roads challenging my 'wrong side of the road' driving skills. The Peninsula is very picturesque, particularly on its east side. It is home to the famous Hot Water Beach, where visitors dig pits in the sand at low tide to soak in hot water that rises from the depths of the earth. While the tide tables were in our favour, the seas were too high for us to dig our spa pool. We had to settle for poking our toes into the hot sand while the beach break swirled around our legs. Nonetheless, it was fascinating!

We capped the day with a two-hour guided boat tour of Mercury Bay. As with most of our other excursions, we were the only guests and our guide treated us to a private tour of the area. As we travelled along the coast, we learned about the various geological formations and area history with a stop to view fish life through the boat's glass bottom. We saw renowned Cathedral Arch, ancient volcanic flows and vents, tectonic plate evidence, and blowholes. Cruising into the heart of a large sea-cave was the highlight of our tour!

On our way back to the Waihi Beach, we detoured to Pauanui where we expected to find a small bach community set well away from the main road. It turned out to be the holiday community for the rich and famous! Flash summer houses, streets paved in earth-tone, upscale 18-hole golf course, deluxe marina and more development underway. NZ is full of surprises! We had not given any thought to the fact that the Coromandel Peninsula is so close to Auckland.


We drove down to Rotorua after saying 'good-bye' to the Waihi Beach bach that had been our home for almost two weeks. We were excited about spending some time in 'Roto-vegas' after having the 'pleasure' of spending a few hours at its bus terminal on two separate occasions waiting for ongoing connections. We checked into Ann's Volcanic Motel, a small and friendly operation that provides tidy self-contained units off the main strip.

We made our way to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, where the Ebb Tide rugby team had been warmly received during its April tour. Unfortunately, Norma and I just missed catching up some of the Maori elders that I had met on my earlier visit. Nonetheless, we had a great tour of the geothermal site that is home to many of their families.

We saw steaming vents and hot water pools where families cook their meals, boiling mud pools, geysers and

our feet was very warm to the touch and our guide explained the cultural significance of the area. She also explained the dangers of living in a geothermal area, such as steams vents opening beneath house foundations!

We returned to the village the next morning to see its cultural performance. It was very entertaining and I was able to join the performers in the haka. Luckily, I was able to keep my hairy white body in the shadows at the back of the stage!

Our next stop was the Buried Village of Te Wairoa. A massive eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 buried the community. The survivors were relocated to Whakarewarewa where their descendents continue to live. Many buildings have been excavated and we joined the great-great nephew of the village's tohunga (priest) for a guided tour of the site. Despite numerous visitors present on the grounds, Norma and I were the only ones to join him. Their loss and our gain as he was rich in knowledge!

The story of our guide's great-great uncle, Tuhoto Ariki, was very interesting. The tohunga had predicted that a great calamity would befall the people for deviating from their traditions. The people blamed him for the destruction and many wanted to leave him buried in his whare. He was still alive when they finally dug him out four days after the eruption. Tuhoto Ariki died later in hospital after doctors shaved his head despite his protests. The Maori consider a person's head to be very sacred and it is believed that the tohunga's sanctity was destroyed when his head was shaved.

After the tour, we had a very enjoyable bush walk on our own, following a stream teaming with trout to Te Wairoa Falls, before leaving the grounds. We drove to the viewpoint overlooking Lake Tarawera and we could see Mt Tarawera in the distance. It gave us a better understanding of the eruption's incredible power that rained volcanic bombs and ash down on the village so many kilometres away.

Norma and I treated ourselves to a Maori concert and hangi at the Mitai Maori Village that evening. The tour bus picked us up at the motel and gathered other guests from surrounding hostels, motels and hotels. One of our group volunteered to represent us as our 'chief' for the evening's festivities.

After viewing our dinner being removed from the hangi (pit oven), our host led us into the forest where we saw warriors paddle their waka, by firelight, up the stream. We followed them to the concert area that represented a village and where they made the traditional challenge and oratories to our 'chief' and his tribe. We responded to their waiata (song) with one that our host had taught us earlier. The performers entertained us with hakas, songs, poi dances and demonstrations of weaponry.

Their leader explained the cultural significances of each and he also provided us a detailed explanation of his traditional taa moko (tattoos). The performance was excellent, informative and very entertaining. The performers deserved their extra applause as they were in traditional clothing (read: next to nothing) in the cold damp night while we were bundled up in our winter wear and surrounded with heaters!

We had a delicious hangi meal of chicken, lamb, pumpkin, kumara, potato and stuffing afterwards. Seconds were encouraged and happily taken! We finished our evening with a brief night tour of neighbouring Rainbow Springs Nature Park where we viewed huge trout in the natural springs and spied on rescued kiwi and other birds in aviaries.


We returned to John and Lynn Jackson's home in Waihou the following morning. Whenever asked how far something was from Waihou, Jacko always responded, "90 minutes" and funny enough, we arrived on their doorstep 90 minutes after leaving Rotorua!

Jacko was on his own as Lynn and daughter Sharne had gone to Roto-vegas for a girls' weekend. We grabbed Norma, picked up two of the local lads and headed off to Paeroa to watch the Waihou 2nd XV playoff game... in the winter rain and wind! Not the best conditions for Norma and her cold even though she was huddled between us in the covered stands! Compulsory drinks in the home team's clubhouse followed before we returned to Waihou for dinner at its local and only pub. Norma begged off from continuing the evening at Waihou RFC... a wise decision as it turned into a late night filled with rugby stories and shenanigans!

Norma and I made a day trip to Waitomo Monday...yep, 90 minutes away from Waihou! We managed to arrive in time to tour two of the area's major caves - the Glowworm Cave and Aranui Cave. Both were spectacular in their own right.

A guide led us through the Glowworm Cave with its huge chambers where concerts and weddings have been held and past arrays of stalagmites and stalactites. She then brought us to a chamber where we boarded a boat and swung off onto the underground river into darkness. When our eyes became accustomed to the dark, we saw that we were amidst a veritable Milky Way of little green lights created by ten of thousands of glow-worms! As directed, we sat in absolute silence so we wouldn't disturb these marvellous little creatures. We also sat in absolute awe! Understandably, photography is not allowed in this cave. Our boat followed the river and exited the cave at an entrance in the forest where we debarked to follow a trail back to the car-park.

Norma and I quickly drove the three kilometres to Aranui Cave, anxious for another experience underground. We met our guide who led our small group along a forest trail to the cave entrance. The cave does not have glow-worms as it does not have a river running through it. However, it is adorned with fabulous and colourful formations created over the eons, including thousands of tiny 'straw' stalactites hanging from the ceiling. We wound along the walkway through the cave, listening to our guide's explanation of the various formations and stories about the cave. We emerged into daylight 45-minutes later, thoroughly amazed and thrilled with everything we had seen and experienced!

We revived our kitchen skills and made dinner for the Jackson's that evening, which was our last night in Waihou. John and Lynn's hospitality was fantastic, and our time with them will always be remembered as a highlight of our time in NZ!

Next stop... Auckland and the Northlands!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on August 16, 2009 from Waihou, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Rotorua, Coromandel and Waitomo

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Jackrabbit Travel Blog - Bouncing Back & Forth - First Entry

Greymouth, New Zealand

We're sure that you've noticed that our travel blog bounces around, leaving several days/weeks of our travels unaccounted. Sometimes it's hard keeping up even though the pace of life is easy!

June 1: Christchurch to Greymouth

We blogged earlier about our return to Christchurch from Akaroa and purchasing three beautiful Maori art prints. We have since learned that prints are not a common art form for Maori artists and so feel very lucky to have found these works. We are looking forward to framing and displaying them when we get home.

We also blogged about the pending early morning train departure so let's continue the journey there...

6 a.m. came quickly...too quickly! Our morning ritual of tea dulled the pain of rising before the sun, and we were soon standing in the cold blustery dawn waiting for our shuttle to the train station. We boarded the TranzAlpine, settled into our appointed seats and were soon underway down the track headed for Greymouth on the west coast. It wasn't long before rain turned to snow and winter became increasingly more pronounced as the train climbed upwards towards Arthur's Pass. The winter scenes along the way even captivated this pair of Canadians!

The train emptied quickly at its stop in the Pass. Riders of all ages marvelled at the snow and digital cards quickly filled with photos of grinning faces as teeth began to chatter. Many riders had never experienced snow before and it was entertaining watching their antics and expressions.

We re-boarded the train and soon were trundling down the western slope where grey skies and snow gave way to sunshine and greenery. I managed to find the perfect corner on a deck between rail cars to take in the sights, sunshine and fresh air, out of the cool wind, where I stayed for the remainder of the journey.

The TranzAlpine was a fascinating journey filled with incredible scenery, and one of the highlights of our time on the South Island. Many do it as a day trip with a short half hour stop-over in Greymouth before returning to Ch-ch. We dropped our bags at Noah's Ark Backpackers and returned to watch the train leave the station before we headed off for groceries.

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on July 16, 2009 from Greymouth, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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"Thars Gold In Dem Thar Hills" - Mining Then & Now

Waihi, New Zealand

Gold...man has responded to its siren call since the beginning of time and many have perished in its name. The first gold discovery in New Zealand occurred on the Coromandel Peninsula in 1852 and many more followed, especially on the South Island in the 1860s, that lead to true gold rushes.

Early miners worked their claims with picks, shovels and gold pans. Progress and the quest for richer sources saw miners employ water cannons to wash down high banks, build long raceways through challenging terrain to carry water to mining operations and eventually operate steam powered dredges in rivers.

As surface gold became scarcer, prospectors directed their attention underground. Hard rock mining required greater capital and expertise that most surface miners possessed or could acquire. Syndicates with strong financial backing formed and developed large underground operations to remove ore-bearing quartz that was pulverised in massive rock-crushing batteries. The use of cyanide to recover gold lead to higher production. The Martha Mine at Waihi expanded its operations with that process and became the largest gold mine in New Zealand by 1900. It closed in 1952, after producing 5 million ounces of gold from nearly 11 million tonnes of ore.

Gold was mined in nearby Karangahake Gorge starting in March 1875. With the introduction of the cyanide process, gold recovery dramatically increased and three large batteries were constructed to treat the ore extracted from extensive workings deep inside Karangahake Mountain. The Karangahake mines accounted for 60% of NZ's total gold produced in 1909. Ore mining in Karangahake ceased in 1918 while the Victoria Battery, capable of crushing up to 800 tons of ore daily, continued to process ore from the Waihi Martha Mine until the mine closure in 1952.

The Martha Mine returned to life in 1988 as an open pit operation. It is located at the end of the main street of Waihi, and is a major employer and attraction for the area. It has produced an average of 100,000 ounces of gold and 700,000 ounces of silver annually since reopening. It is now winding down its operations and heading towards closure. The area around its perimeter has been replanted with native plants and the near 250-m deep pit will eventually become a recreational lake.

One can experience the 'then and now' of gold mining in this area in one day. A beautiful walkway with information posts and lookouts encircle most of the Martha Mine perimeter. We watched the operations on three separate days, marvelling at the enormity of the pit that dwarves the huge dump trucks capable of carrying up to 100 tonnes of ore in a single load. Each truck takes about 15 minutes to make a round trip from the mine bottom to the crusher at the pit top and return.

We then drove to Karangahake Gorge, 8 km from Waihi, and hiked several of the tracks maintained by the NZ Dept. of Conservation. The tracks incorporate original mine workings such as tunnels and tramway lines, and suspension bridges located where original mining bridges once existed.

The walk was fascinating as it winded through the forest that has reclaimed the once stripped hill sides and cliffs. We felt like 'Indiana Jones' as we came upon the remains of old mine buildings that appeared like Aztec ruins in the rainforest. We saw the remnants of old machinery in several locations along our chosen tracks. One can literally spend days exploring the many tracks and sites that they pass through.

Gold...watching today's modern miners and walking in the footsteps of the miners from yesteryear makes one appreciate the power of its siren call.

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on July 5, 2009 from Waihi, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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"I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet..." - White Island Marine Volcano

Whakatane, New Zealand

Approaching White Island is an ominous feeling. It is NZ's most active and its only marine volcano, formed by three separate volcanic cones of different ages. It lies 50 km offshore from Whakatane and plumes of white steam continuously rise from its ancient shape. Its Maori name - Whakaari - means, "that which can be made visible", referring to its ability to disappear in the ocean mist and haze, and then reappear on clear days.

Mooring in the small bay and stepping onto White Island is a journey into living geological history. The sound of hissing vents, the bite of acrid volcanic steam hitting one's sinuses, the sight of bright yellow and white sulphur deposits, and the feel of newly formed land beneath one's feet moves one from fantasy to reality.

Hot water streams along the crater floor, depositing minerals along the way. The highly acidic water renders it unfit for drinking. We followed our guide along a carefully planned path to avoid falling through the crust into boiling mud-filled vents. The entire area was alive with sound and movement - hissing and bubbling, clouds and plumes of steam dancing and shape-changing. We donned our gas masks and peered through the mist into the bubbling and surging lake of the main crater. We stood beneath Donald Duck and Noisy Nellie, our voices erased by their roaring vents, before moving off the view the Dragon spewing steam in the distance. Its recent surge of activity had forced the guides to reroute their tours.

As we walked about the moonscape devoid of any vegetation, the guides recounted Whakaari's history. The Maori paddled their wakas to the island to collect sulphur for their homes and gardens, and to harvest muttonbirds that nested on its outer edges. The hunters cooked their catch in the steam vents before returning to their villages.

Europeans made several attempts to mine the sulphur. One such attempt was even connected to Canada...BC no less! Dr John Browne and Archibald Mercer, an Englishman with connections in Vancouver, purchased the island for Canadian $20,000 in 1913. The name of their company was The White Island Sulphur Co. of Vancouver.

Production problems and disaster plagued the company's operations from the beginning. The most devastating event occurred in September 1914 when a section of the southern rim of the crater wall slumped, causing a massive lahar that wiped out all the buildings on the island as well as the men who were living there. The only survivor was the miner's cat; his rescuers returned him to the mainland where he sired many kittens that locals eager sought as living lucky charms. No trace of the unfortunate miners was ever found. Today, the ruins of the sulphur factory buildings serves as a bleak reminder of those that toiled in this dangerous and unpredictable environment.

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences constantly monitors the island's volcanic activity with a seismograph, survey pegs, magnetometers and a camera to provide information. Up-to-date images of the island can be viewed hourly at www.geonet.org.nz .

The owners of White Island Tours, Peter & Jenny Tait, are official guardians of the island. Access is restricted and the only way in which anyone is permitted to visit the volcano is with one of the 4 designated tourist operators. We took Peter and Jenny's six-hour trip, and highly recommend their tour. We cruised aboard their custom-made 73 ft 'Pee-Jay V'. Before heading home to Whakatane, Peter treated our group to a rare trip around the entire island thanks to unusually calm seas as well as fur seal and dolphin spotting.

Viewing White Island - Whakaari - from Whakatane took on a different meaning after experiencing its might first-hand. Awe replaced the ominous...definitely another 'WOW' moment in NZ and in our lifetime!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on July 3, 2009 from Whakatane, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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Parlez-Vous Francais? Akaroa & Christchurch (May 25 to May 31)

Akaroa, New Zealand

Travelling is full of surprises. For instance, I had not heard about a nearby French settlement named Akaroa when I visited Christchurch with my rugby team in April. My cousin, 'Andy' (Andrea), in Dunedin told us about it and said that it was a "must see". We consulted our Lonely Planet guide and decided to make a side trip to Akaroa while we were in Ch-ch.

Andy also recommended the Ch-ch Arts Centre as 'the place' to shop for NZ-made items. We made it our first destination after humping our bags to Chester Street Backpackers when we arrived in Ch-ch Monday May 25. The range and quality of goods was impressive! Clothing, jewellry, art, woodwork...all crafted by Kiwis from NZ materials. We made some mental notes for a return buying trip later in the week.

As we're apt to do, we explored the local area around the backpackers the next day, Tuesday May 26. I knew that we picked the right neighborhood to stay in when I saw Pomeroy's Old Brewery Pub in the next block! The owners, Steve and Victoria Pomeroy, are very close friends of my team-mate, Duane 'Draino' Stephenson, and they had hosted our team during the tour. Norma's intuition told her that we'd be coming back for a pint and a visit!

We wandered through the neighborhood and then into the centre of Ch-ch. It's a beautiful city. It has a very English appearance with its churches, parks and even its own Avon River winding through its core. Its settlement in 1850 was an ordered Church of England enterprise meant to be a model of class-structured England down-under rather than another rough colonial outpost. It was a noble plan but thankfully pubs, bars and restaurants made their way into the mix over time!

During our walk, we chanced upon a very poignant exhibition about Passchendale. Passchendale was the final resting place for so many ANZAC soldiers, as it was for our Canadian lads. The sheer loss of life is staggering to comprehend. NZ took it hard on the chin; its casualty rate was enormous for its small population. The Muldrew family is connected with that famous WW1 battleground; my great-uncle (Cousin Mary's father) was seriously wounded there. He was shot through both thighs and fell where he was hit. He lay alone in a shellhole, unable to pull himself back to his lines, and death seemed emminent. To his good fortune, an army chaplain found him hours later and carried him to safety. A story has it that he met his long-lost brother, my grandfather, in the bed next to his in the hospital back in England...we'll have to look into that when we get home.

Norma and I met up with another cousin, Paula, daughter of Hugh and Trixie, and went over to Pomeroy's for the evening. Steve was very happy to see us and treated us royally. Andrea and I found that we have a lot in common with our careers; she is a corrections psych nurse and team leader. We learned that there isn't much difference between our clients and prison life in either hemisphere.

Onto Akaroa...we caught the shuttle early Wednesday morning (May 27) and headed across the Canterbury plains enveloped in pea-soup fog. The fog cleared as we climbed the pass over the hills of the Banks Peninsula to reveal beautiful harbours, bays and countryside. We learned from our driver that the peninsula and its hills were created by two massive volcanic eruptions. The vistas were spectacular!

History lesson...whaling captain Jean Langois negotiated the purchase of the peninsula from the Maori in 1838. He returned to France, collected 63 settlers and headed back to the peninsula to start a French colony in 1840. Meanwhile, the British had heard about this plan and panicked to thwart it. Only days before the French settlers arrived, they sent a warship to raise the Union Jack over Akaroa and claim sovereignty under the Treaty of Wiatangi. Some believe that the South Island may well have become a French colony if the settlers had only arrived two years earlier! The French did settle at Akaroa, the 'benevolent' British provided them with five acres as a sign of their good nature!

We walked all through Akaroa over three days. It is a charming sea-side town much like Qualicum Bay, with small shops and cafes. The street and business names lend to creating the feeling of a small French village, and descendents of the original settlers still reside there. The highlights of our stay included a private (no one else booked) wildlife cruise to view the endangered Hector's dolphin, the world's smallest at just over a meter in length, and the local cinema with its big leather seats and bar! I also borrowed a bike and rode/walked the hills to a nearby Maori community to view their church and marae.

We returned to Ch-Ch Saturday May 30 and headed straight to the Arts Centre where we purchased three limited edition Maori art prints from the artist/gallery owner. We must have spent close to three hours in her gallery over our two visits to admire the various pieces. We capped off our day and last night in Ch-ch with a return visit to Pomeroy's for dinner and a few 'socials'. We enjoyed Steve's hospitality and the warmth of familiar comfortable surroundings immensely .

We could have stayed late into the night but wisely returned to the backpackers mid-evening because we had booked a 7 am shuttle to the train station the next morning for our Trans-Alpine trip to Greymouth. We didn't need to experience the travellers' surprise of waking late for a connection, especially with non-refundable tickets!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on June 21, 2009 from Akaroa, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged ChristChurch, Akaroa, ChCh and HectorSDolphin

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Life in Hawke's Bay - A Comfortable Fit

Bay View, New Zealand

We've been doing our best to blend with the locals. Our days have been a mix of poking around the local areas and hanging about the bach relaxing.

I have continued to spend time with the Napier Boys' High School rugby program and I enjoyed their homes games Saturday. School spirit was more than evident and testosterone levels were overflowing! The NBHS U15 and 2nd XV teams ushered the 1st XV onto the field with a haka to rouse the warriors. Hastings and NBHS 1st XVs squared off at centre field and challenged each other with their hakas. It was a showdown that ended up with both teams chest-to-chest chanting in each other faces. I've never seen anything like it and it sure set the tone for the game that followed. In the end, NBHS bettered their opponents and made it a clean sweep for NBHS's teams that day. I felt very honoured when the 2nd XV coaches, Billy and Russell, presented me with an NBHS Super 8 jersey and supporter t-shirt, and I will wear them with pride.

Norma and I took a sightseeing drive south Friday through Otane, Waipawa, Waipukurau and Porangahau. The latter was our primary destination as it is home to the world's longest place name:


It means 'The hilltop where Tamatea, with big knees, conquerer of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his kaouau (flute) to his beloved.'

Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find the famous sign gone and an excavator

surrounded by slash piles, downed trees and stumps in its place! I even came back a few hours later hoping to find the sign behind one of the slash piles...well, it was a nice drive...again.

The entire area was beautiful, filled with small hidden valleys and surrounded with low rolling hills. We stopped for a late lunch at Te Paerahi Beach and had it to ourselves. It stretches 8km and is a popular spot in the summer for holiday home owners and campers.

We poked around the shops in each town and I finally purchased my All Blacks jersey. I had long promised that I would only buy an AB jersey in NZ and I was thrilled to find it on sale in Waipukurau, a town with a population of approx. 4500. The shop owner and I had a good chat about the ABs, and he enjoyed the thought of a Canadian cheering for the home team!

I also promised that when I finally bought an AB jersey, I would have my photo taken with it outside the shop. Norma succumbed to my pleas and indulged my weirdness!

I wore my new AB jersey to watch the second test against the French last night (June 20). Some of the NBHS supporters invited me to join them for a "boys' night out" but I guess they forgot where they told me to meet them! No worries, tho'; I ended up meeting some local fellows and watching the game with them over a few Tui's. We had a good time chatting with each other, sharing lots of laughs and shooting a few games of pool. Cheers to Brent, Spencer and Dennis, all good blokes who originally hailed from Otane! Our paths may cross again at RWC in 2011!

I had an 'it's a small world' moment earlier in the week when we strolled the shops in Taradale, a community near Napier. I don't know why but I had to check out the smaller of two butcher shops. I was wearing my Ebb Tide ballcap and hoody, and the butcher asked if I played "footie". I answered that I did and told him where we're from. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he played a season for the Prince George Gnats in the mid-90's! His name is Chris Stringer and his shop is BC Meats (BC = best cuts, not our prov.) 313 Gloucester St Taradale, NZ.

We thoroughly enjoyed the lamb shanks and cajun chicken pieces that we bought from him.

We visited Church Road Winery while we were in Taradale and had a private tour with a brilliant tasting of eight wines afterwards. We left with three bottles of absolutely stunning wine that cost almost $100NZ yet a real bargain once we factored in the exchange rate! We tasted a fantastic 2006 reserve merlot-cab that was sold out but the staff went out of their way and pulled a bottle out of their restaurant's cellar for us. Another good day in NZ!

We have really enjoyed Hawke's Bay. Everyone is friendly and we have had some great chats with people that we've met along the way. Everyone we've met has been keenly interested in Canada and to hear what we think about their region and NZ. They all beam with pride when we tell them that we would very happy to live here. We have found it very easy to blend with the locals and that says it all!

PS. The ABs won 14 - 11 and NZ sighed a huge breath of relief! I know wearing my new jersey helped the cause!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on June 20, 2009 from Bay View, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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Chillin' in Hawke's Bay

Napier, New Zealand

Chillin' in Hawke's Bay and sressin' on the coast highway...

Everyone needs to take a break, even when they're travelling, and find a sanctuary for some solitude and sense of space. It was a 'no brainer' to choose Victoria's sister city, Napier, renown for its Art Deco architecture, as the place to toss our backpacks into a corner and chill. It's located in the Hawke's Bay region with its Mediterranean climate, beautiful scenery in every direction and home to no less than 70 wineries. We hired a 'bach' (cottage) at Wishart Vineyards in Bay View, about 10 km north of Napier. A ten minute walk through the vineyard takes us to the beach where we can watch the waves break and crash after their long journey across the Pacific. We hired a car, too, so we can explore the local area in all directions.

Truth be known, I had already arranged to spend time shadowing Napier Boys' High School rugby coaches at practices and figured that Norma would enjoy the shops and vineyards in a warmer clime. I was right, too! We were in our shorts and t-shirts having morning tea on the veranda when we heard that Dunedin is covered in snow this morning (Tuesday June 16).

We arrived last Wednesday (June 10) and have had a mix of busy and quiet days. We explored the vineyard and beach Thursday while our laundry was on the go, then visited Esk Winery across the road for a tasting. I headed off to practice at NBHS that afternoon and afterwards found myself madly scribbling notes about drills and plays.

We walked the streets of Napier Friday to see the Art Deco buildings contructed to restore the city after an earthquake devastated it in 1931. It is literally a city that rose from the ashes; its architecture is fascinating and its story is inspiring. We'll walk the opposite sides of the streets before we leave so that we can see the buildings from a different perspective.

Norma was a content rugby widow Saturday. I hit the road before 7 am on the drive to Gisborne, 200+ km north, to watch the NBHS teams play their rival, Gisborne Boys' High School. These lads play hard exciting rugby! The 1st XV game would be a close equal to any of our local premier games for skill and speed. I arrived back at the bach shortly before 6:30 pm and then headed to the local pub to watch the All Blacks vs. France game because we don't have Sky Sports on our bach telly. The game was a disappointment (France won with help from the All Blacks) and it was rebroadcast on a regular telly channel half an hour after I got back to the bach!

The road to Gisborne is the mother of all Malahats. In fact, it makes the Malahat look like a prairie freeway! It's a challenge in daylight with its twists and turns. Speed limits change from 100 kph to 25 kph in the blink of an eye. Steep climbs through the hills apparently aren't challenging enough for Kiwis - they narrow the roadway so that loaded semis almost brush cars in the opposite lane and bar any escape with a sheer drop on one side and towering overhanging rock faces on the other! None of this seems to phase the Kiwis, though. The way that they drive leads me to believe that they have visions of being the next Formula One great! Throw darkness into the mix and the whole experience requires a few stiff drinks when you get back to the bach!

Sunday...we drove down to Haverlock North and up to the top of the peak of Te Mata. The sheer escarpments and the incredible clear-day views in all directions from the 399m summit gave Norma the 'woozies'! Stops at the Arataki Honey Visitor Centre and the Te Mata Cheese Company brought her back to life.

The sun was out in all its glory yesterday (Monday June 15) so we jumped into the car and headed north for a soak at Morere Hot Springs. 40o C hot pools under the canopy of a lush rainforest of towering nikau palms, ferns and other native trees. Bird song mingled with the steam of the pools as we simmered in the mineral waters. We drove out to the Mahia Peninsula, which was once an island before sands filled in the gap over eons to join it to the mainland. The beaches and coastline were spectacular, and we found a wonderful spot on the shore to relax with a beer and snack on Te Mata blue cheese. The waves continually crashed onto the sandstone formations that waves through the millennia have etched and carved into stunning sculptures. Before leaving the peninsula, I had to stop at the local rugby pitch and marvel at its setting on an escarpment high above the wide open Pacific. The view is unobstructed and only the ocean separates the pitch from South America.

We turned onto the highway for the trip home as the sun started to set and the skies ahead glowed with its fiery colors. The marvels of nature disappeared with darkness and the challenges of driving the coast highway took over. The experience gripped Norma and she too found comfort in a stiff drink once back in the comfort of the bach!

Yep, you have appreciate the ying and yang of chillin' in Hawke's Bay and stressin' on the coast highway...

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on June 15, 2009 from Napier, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Hot, Napier, TeMata, Morere, Springs, Mahia and Peninsula

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Fast Forward - The Past & The Present

Timaru, New Zealand

Well, you're probably wondering what's going on with our travel blog. Understandable given that entries have been very few since we arrived in NZ. Our apologies...we've been on the go, go, go and without internet connections for most of the time. Okay, enough excuses...let's share our most recent experiences with all of you!

We're currently in Timaru, which is about three hours south of Christchurch. We spent the past two weeks meeting the NZ Muldrew clan. What an experience! I have met so many second cousins and their families - almost 50 so far. In fact, there are hundreds of Muldrews and descendents in NZ that all have a common connection to my great-great grandfather and grandmother, James and Ruth Muldrew, who came here from Ireland via the sailing ship Auckland in 1874.

We arrived in Dunedin May 10 and met the first of the cousins, Ann Padman, and her family: husband, Wayne, and daughters, Alison, Jackie & Bronwyn. We all have so much in common and we hit it off right away...rugby, hunting, fishing, camping, cold beers and rums & coke just to name a few things!

We stayed with Jackie and her partner, Tups, for three nights; their home is strategically placed one block over from the 'House of Pain', Carisbrook Stadium! Sadly no games were on but the stadium staff allowed me inside to see the grounds. All Blacks will play the French there June 13, and Dunedin is awash with banner advertising the match.

We then stayed with another cousin, Helen Brathwaite, and her partner, David, for several nights. Helen received the Member of NZ Order of Merit in recognition of her 40 years as a special needs teacher and the amazing things she accomplished with her students. David and Helen toured us all over the local area, including a trip to Taiaroa Head to see the royal albatross flying.

Ann organized a family gathering for the May 16/17 weekend at the Girl Guides Lodge in Waikouaiti, a short drive north of Dunedin. Family came from near and far, including Lindsay Brinsdon from Tasmania and Neville Mattingly from Perth. Thirty-six descendents sat to a home-cooked dinner Saturday night and shared stories from the past and present. We continued over breakfast Sunday and then slowly trickled away home. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the weekend that Ann and Wayne put together for the family.

Norma and I moved on to Oamaru Tuesday May 19 to spend time with two of my dad's first cousins: Hugh Muldrew and his wife, Trixie, and Mary Rapson.

All are in their eighties and full of life! Hugh put me behind the wheel Wednesday and Thursday to travel about meeting more cousins and seeing sights important to the family. We met the oldest family member, Ruby Orlowsky, who is 94 years old and living in her home across from Waitaki Girls' School.

We were fortunate to see the Maheno cemetary, north of Oamaru, under clear skies Thursday. We saw the resting places of my great-great and great grandparents, as well as great aunts and uncles. It was a very powerful experience.

We also saw several sights such as the Moreaki Boulders and rescued penguins at a nearby lighthouse. The highlight for me was seeing the original land that my great-great grandparents homesteaded and Muldrews Road that marks the area. Hugh regaled us wih family history and stories everywhere we went.

We ended our time in Oamaru with an overnight stay with Mary who showed us her scrapbooks and shared her recollections of the family long ago. It was a wonderful evening.

It was hard leaving Oamaru yesterday afternoon and moving on with our journey through NZ. After all, my visit had only reunited us for a short time. It had been 117 years since Ruth Muldrew sailed from Ireland with her brothers and sisters,save my grandfather who was too young to make the journey and remained behind with his maternal grandparents. He never saw his family again...I guess that explains my tears at the bus depot.

I met my third cousin, Max Muldrew, today and we spent a large part of the afternoon discussing the family tree. Max has done considerable research and he provided me a copy of the family tree from my great-great grandparents to present that he compiled. It fills 74 pages! A true labour of love!

We leave Timaru for Christchurch tomorrow morning...I have some reading to do on the way and it will be fascinating to say the least! The past forms the present...

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on May 24, 2009 from Timaru, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Family and Muldrews

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South of the South Island - Te Anau thru The Catlins

Te Anau, New Zealand

The south of the South Island...vistas extraordinaire! We saw absolutely stunning scenery as we walked tracks, drove back-roads and cruised inland waters in and around Te Anau, Milford Sound and the Catlins.

The summer crowds had long deserted Te Anau, leaving its lakefront and surrounding parks empty. It is still a jumping off spot however for tramping the many tracks dotted with DOC huts and this keeps the local hostels busy before winter grips the mountains. We were hostelling newbies and so we learned a few things about communal living right away. To no surprise, many young travellers still think that, just like at mom and dad's, elves and pixies clean the kitchen while they sleep!

Te Anau's lakefront walk includes a bird sanctuary that houses several threatened species. It was sad to learn that so many birds unique to New Zealand have become extinct since the arrival of man, particularly Europeans. The remaining species are under constant threat of attack from ferrets, stoats, rats, mice and feral cats, in addition to habitat damage by possums, deer, feral goats and pigs, and habitat loss by man. No mammals, save a small bat, existed in New Zealand before man arrived. Conservation groups are making efforts across the country though to protect remaining species and their habitats. It's been an ongoing battle for over a century and progress is always fragile.

The drive to Milford Sound is an exceptional experience in its own right. Lakes, forests, valley floors and mountain ranges continually change shape and color. The beauty of the areas through to Milford was breathtaking. Clear blue skies and bright sun certainly contributed to the experience! Later, our guide aboard the Milford Sound cruise advised, with a chuckle, that we would see few waterfalls because it hadn't rained for the past five days and the area was in a drought! The Sound was still spectacular with its massive rock walls towering high overhead and calm seas. We were able to steam out onto the unusually gently rolling South Tasman Sea before turning back into the Sound for the return leg.

We moved further south to Invercargill after four wonderful days in Te Anau. Urged by fellow travellers and my NZ family, we hired a car and left the city to tour the Catlins.

Their descriptions of the area were understated and we are challenged to give an account that gives the Catlins justice. Deserted beaches, massive headlands, wide expanses of rolling grazing lands dotted with sheep, thick rich forests, rivers...and peaceful solitude! We filled four days with beach and forest tramps, wildlife spotting and getting use to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. We even stood at the most southerly point of the South Island and felt the winds from Antartica on our faces.

We didn't get to Stewart Island, which lies off the south of the main island, due to poor weather. Tossing around in a water taxi for 90 minutes and knowing that the heavy rain would all but silence the renown birdlife made our decision to leave that trip for a return visit to NZ.

The south of South and its extraordinary vistas can be summed up in one simple word..."Wow!"

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on April 30, 2009 from Te Anau, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged MilfordSound, TeAnau and TheCatlins

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