Thoughts: A Quick Roadtrip with my Kids

Every year around this time I have taken my kids camping. It’s been something I instituted post-marriage with the aim to broaden their horizons somewhat and maintain a good bond with them.

It’s worked.

This year was a little different owing to a few changes and uncertainties that came about in 2018, so we only had three days to make something happen.

I decided to take them up North. They’ve actually been around Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri a lot (their mother’s dad has a timeshare they’ve been able to make use of).

I wanted to show them some of New Zealand that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see. My daughter expressed that she wasn’t particularly interested in New Zealand and it’s history. She loves the Romans (but hasn’t read Asterix – go figure). I guess it’s her age and the education she is exposed to.

We based ourselves in Kerikeri. The campground there is well appointed. Enough trees to cope with the 32C heat. It borders a river and it was fun cooling off. And trying not to kill myself by slipping on algae-covered rocks. I’m not really great with ‘outside’. I’m sure I used to be, apparently not now.

I enjoy getting them involved in cooking. Deciding what to buy at the supermarket then taking responsibility for its preparation. They complain of course, they’re teenagers after all, but they do do the doing. I also like them to see me interact with other campers. These places are magnets for tourists and locals alike. My kids are fairly introverted and shy so I feel it’s important to show them how to socialise.

One of the people I talked with was a Maori guy, one of four. He politely asked if he could share the BBQ I was using (of course he can) because he was cooking up a feed of mussels for himself and his three mates. I asked if he’d gathered them. “Yes” he said. “From Countdown”. Sigh. He also didn’t have any cooking suggestions I could learn – “I just put them on until they open and they’re sweet eh?”. He gave me one to try. His approach to cooking worked just fine.

As a side note, everyone has Bluetooth speakers and personalised playlists. This group had a particularly excellent Soul, RnB thing going on and were having a bit of a singalong.

The next group I talked to were Indian. A family. They were cooking corn on the cob direct on the gas hobs. But for me the interesting thing was the seasoning they were going to use. A mix of chilli pepper, salt, and then a squeeze of lemon. Spectacular. It was fun being able to talk to them about their cuisine.

Day Two was the core of my plan. Now, my kids aren’t that interested being taught stuff, learning, when they’re in holiday. Tough dad eh? We got on the road early to drive from Kerikeri to Cape Reinga. It’s an interesting drive, very different landscapes, interesting fauna (we saw cows, sheep, hawks, turkey, emus and more). Actually, we were lucky and saw some shepherds with their dogs working a flock from one paddock to the next, across the highway. Was something pretty special to witness.

As we drove, I pointed out to my kids, the small communities anchored by a church and graveyard and maybe a shop. How NZ was and still is.

Note: Telecommunication coverage is appalling in the Far North – given the potential for tourism there I think it needs to be looked at.

I loved seeing how many people make the trip to see the Cape and its surrounds. It’s quite something being at the top of the North Island.

We headed home, stopping off at Te Kao for an ice cream. (Do it, it’s obligatory). We detoured through Totara North as it’s where my kids maternal grandmother grew up. (There’s literally nothing there so it didn’t take long). We visited a site where gumdiggers worked in terrible conditions locating and digging up kauri gum. I actually got interest from my son. He now knows why gumboots are called gumboots and not Wellingtons in this country.

Next stop, also obligatory and totally worth it, was Mangonui. They have the best fish and chips there. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Given the lack of feedback one gets from teenagers I can only assume that when they’re in their 20’s they’ll look back to the day they saw the Lighthouse…

Day Three. We packed up the campsite and got on the road. (I have to add that as they are getting older they are getting much more useful and helpful).

I wanted to take them West to see Opononi (pretty, nothing much there, had a dolphin in 1955/56 that was friendly) on the way to the Waipoua Forest.

It was good to show them how people live in the Far North. Either by choice or through circumstance. There are small communities dotted on the road. Shanty’s. Lean-to’s. Derelict. Rundown. Deserted and abandoned. It’s certainly not Howick. I was interested to see that despite the ruination of the buildings around, the churches all were in quite good condition…

Then we arrived in the Waipoua Forest. I wanted to make sure they saw Tane Mahuta whilst they have the chance to. (It’s no guarantee that access will be for ever).

All up, it’s been a great few days. Good company, good food, good conversation, good music. I am very grateful that my kids like to spend focussed time with me. Now to plan the next.

Thoughts: Whoa! Studios – Henderson, Auckland

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This is new to Auckland. Very new.

We visited Whoa! Studios to celebrate the birthday of a Mum as it promised good food, wine and lots of great distractions for the kids.

This place is fantastic. Seriously great.

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It was heaving with families despite the weather being a tad unhelpful. Our first distraction was the urban playground – fabulously thought out and executed. The centerpiece being this phenomenal Whoa!Web crochet construction which took two years to create.

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The Grounds:

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We were put up in a private room which had great ambience – perfect for our family group.

The service was superb (they were able to adjust for our needs – i.e. feed the kids first so there is more room for the adults once they vanish) and the kitchen catered for a variety of dietary requirements easily.

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The food was outstanding. We were served Asian-fusion Tapas – from kimchi to kingfish to steak. Absolutely perfectly cooked and the flavours were perfect. My understanding is that there is a strong focus on seasonal ingredients, and as close to local as possible. Apparently the tomatoes we ate were from the garden of an elderly local woman. This is just awesome in my book.

I loved the decor. It’s a beautiful room.

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Then there’s the whole theatre and show experience for the kids. Probably aimed at the under-10’s but Miss 13 enjoyed it. There were layers of humor that would fly over the understanding of children but would entertain the parents.

The lobby and entry to the show is great. It really sets the scene.

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Everything about Whoa! Studios has been thought through and executed to a really high standard. I’m super-impressed.

I have no hesitation in recommending this for a fun family experience. I will definitely return.

Thoughts: Camping 2017

For the last five or so years, I have instituted a bit of a ritual: taking my kids away to a campsite somewhere in New Zealand for a week. The idea is simply to get closer to them and to expose them to what this country has to offer outside of hotel rooms and big cities.

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They do look forward to it and we have successfully found that necessary balance between device-time and interacting with each other and the surroundings we find ourselves in.

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This year was a bit different. I decided to book a site at the Waitomo Top 10. The idea was to explore the glow worm caves and several others. I’m a bit mean actually: my daughter (11) hasn’t ever been all that comfortable in underground tunnels (for example, those found on North Head in Auckland) so I thought this might be a good way to encourage her to deal with her fears.

 

What I hadn’t considered is that her fears weren’t limited to tunnels. It turns out that her list includes tunnels, caves, dark, bugs, wetas, sounds of water, drips… and we managed to find all those things in one tidy package.

 

So when one of our guides told us that he did things that no other guide did, such as turning off all the lights, the look of betrayal my daughter gave me was quite special. I laughed.

 

She coped admirably and grudgingly admits that there were aspects of the adventuring she enjoyed. Stalactites and stalagmites made the list.

 

Katherine and her daughter joined us for two nights which was fun. It created a change in our usual dynamic which isn’t a bad thing. Change is good as they say.

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Waitomo. What can I say? Majestic natural wonderlands underground. And more to to point, the organisations overseeing these treasures have created something great. I have harboured a default position where I suspect New Zealand tourism businesses do things a bit on the cheap and end up with an overpriced experience for tourists that ultimately is a bit shit. I’m happy to say that in the case of Waitomo, this perception is dead wrong. I felt pride in what we (Kiwis) are showing people here.

 

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I also love getting off the beaten track a bit. We went to Marokopa on the West coast (47kms West of Waitomo) to see what was there. Not that much in truth, but there is a seaside community, great fishing off the bar, coffees available en route and some beautiful scenery. I loved it. The kids… well, not so much.

 

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That being said, I love seeing how my kids are growing and maturing. Each year they’re a little bit less useless and more autonomous. They’re not requiring my help with keeping them entertained quite as much. They’re able to (and actually take personal responsibility for) their showers, doing dishes, hanging togs and towels etc.

 
The Waitomo Top 10 is also pretty cool. It’s not as big as other campsites we’ve visited, and the population is more transient. There’s not much to do beyond visiting the caves. In hindsight I think perhaps 2 nights there and then somewhere else may have been a better option.

 
It was so good seeing close up how important tourism is to our country. In the course of the week I’ve had decent conversations with people from France, Germany, Australia, the US and more. All are here with a sense of wonderment. All are here to experience something quite unique in the world, and they were getting it.

 
An aside: I note that Mercedes pretty much owns the campervan market. They’re doing something right!

 

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All up, a very good week. A chance to reconnect with my kids and spend time with them outside of routine. It’s valuable. And there is nothing better than getting just a little bit feral before addressing the new work year.

 

That being said, I am ready for it now!

Thoughts: Fathers Day and Family

I’ve been percolating and processing a little bit over the last couple of weeks.

I didn’t have my kids with me on actual Fathers Day which I am kind of ok about. I’m used to it now I guess. The sum total of contact was a ‘Happy Fathers Day’ text from my son and a ‘Happy Farters Day’ text from my daughter.

I did find it a bit hard seeing the outpouring of happy dads across all social platforms, but I took comfort from the fact that I’d have my kids the following week to make up for it.

On the actual day I popped in to see my 84 yr old dad. Gave him a card which reflects my sense of humour. I even wrote some lovely thoughts inside.

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A week later I took my kids over to visit, and I noticed that of all the cards he’d received for Father’s Day, my card was the only one not displayed. He was worried that it might offend my sister. Cool. Boring Simon from here on in I suppose.

A few other things occured at that visit that got me thinking that family really isn’t that important to me.

On Sunday, I lay in bed anticipating a little bit of celebration and attention from my kids. Nope. Maybe my expectations were too high. OOMA made a great effort but it was like pulling teeth to get my kids to do anything.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually a good father. Do I do a good job? Do my kids actually care? Or have they been put off me a bit through changes in circumstance (both with me and with their mother). I don’t know.

It’s very disconcerting that they’re getting to the age where they need me in a different way.

I guess I can just steer the course.

Watch this space.

Thoughts: Walking With My Son

So, I don’t often walk with my son. Mainly on account of the fact that we are both lazy arse. I was therefore surprised when we got home after school this afternoon when he said to me “let’s go for a walk”.

Whaaaatttt?

It turns out that he wanted to hunt Pokemon and gain rewards from walking. Ok. I was up for it.

5kms later…

It reminded me of the last time us two went for a walk around the block. He was 5 (some 8 years ago) and my life at that time was about to change fairly significantly.

I remember clearly as he’d really pushed to go for a walk with me. Halfway around the block he looked up at me and said “why are you doing this walk”?

I replied “to lose weight”.

He considered this for a while then said “it’s not working”. Then “perhaps you should go on The Biggest Loser”.

I laughed then, and I laugh now. And no, it’s not working. Still.

I love the mind of a child.

Thoughts: Quality Time With My Daughter

Yesterday I had to take Master 13 to a mates birthday. As it was on the other side of Auckland from home I was not interested in making a couple of trips.

This left me with the task of providing entertainment for Miss 10 who’d tagged along.

Now, I’ve been developing a healthy and wholesome obsession with DIY stores – I love spending time in both Bunnings and Mitre 10 – and tragically my son and other assorted people in my life (I’m looking at KT) don’t seem to properly appreciate the joyous environs provided by these companies.

But Miss 10 appears to.

We went to Bunnings. We went to Mitre 10. We looked at tools. We looked at plants. We looked at wood.

I have learned that Miss 10 is really interested in home decor and design. She loves lights, and has a particular thing for fake display kitchens. She loves them! (I should note here that she is a bit disturbed by display toilets – it’s balance I suppose).

She was a great partner in a crime for me! It was so much fun.

We also spent a few hours looking for geocaches. She took pride and pleasure in locating destinations (giving me directions and instructions) and then finding the caches, logging our finds and then deciding on the next one.

It was a special time. It was unforced and just fun. I’m loving how she’s growing and the person she is becoming. I’m a lucky guy.

Thoughts: Momentous Meetings

This week has been pretty huge for me.

My birth mother has come to stay with me and KT. She arrived in NZ a month ago – I wrote about it here – and has been spending time catching up with her old friends and reconnecting with my birth father.

Last Sunday represented the first time in my entire life that I have been in the same room as my mother and my father. It was a little surreal.

My kids got to meet their biological grandmother for the first time in their lives on Tuesday. After the initial shyness they connected. My mother (76) loves technology and gaming and has a Steam membership, as does Master 13. They’re now friends on Steam and as my son so eloquently put it “When it’s my birthday you can buy me games”. Sigh.

Miss 10 is a little more circumspect. She likes to hold back and observe until she’s considered all things. Then she talks. And talk they did.

As I’d already met Mum and my family over in Somerset and have connected with my Father and half-brother over the last few years, it wasn’t too emotionally challenging for me. Apart from an occasional “wow” moment when people around us observe mannerisms and speech patterns that are clearly genetic rather than learned. For my Mum though it’s been a completion. She’s naturally a tad pessimistic and was worried that my kids would ‘hate her on sight’. This of course was quite silly. She’s mentioned that for the first time in her life she feels directly involved rather than being on the periphery of family goings-on.

An interesting observation is that my mother and father don’t have any real experience of being grandparents so the relationship that will develop between them and my kids is going to be quite different to those my kids have with my adoptive parents and their grandparents on their mothers’ side. It’ll be more adult than anything. It will be interesting to see how that progresses.
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It’s been good showing mum around parts of Auckland. She’s got to meet my ex (the mother of my kids) briefly and has started to get a real sense of my world. She has realised how similar to her I am.

My dad has been staying with my half-brother this week and has joined us on occasion. We visited Kelly Tarlton’s (yes, it’s the one thing my mum wanted to see in Auckland – she loves aquariums) and then yesterday, we all met my adoptive parents for a cuppa and a chat.

Well… by ‘chat’ I mean that the four somewhat deaf senior citizens paired off and started talking. The kids and I were surplus to the occasion so we ended up playing cards. My birth parents and my adoptive parents had a lifetime of catching up to do. They’d never met before.
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So the missing pieces of my life are found. And with this visit, my life has come full circle.

Very interesting times indeed.

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