Sunday, May 29, 2011

Farewell Opunake, Arohanui

As we ready ourselves to leave this fine country, we have found ourselves compiling lists of all of the things we'll miss.  Granted, there are many things that we will be really happy to return to (garbage disposal and gas cooktop, Mexican food - Roberto's!, Rennin our crazy black lab), but there are countless things every day here in Opunake that have us waxing nostalgic before we leave.  We'll miss...

The relaxed, slower pace of life.  Walking to school barefoot, checking the surf on the way.  Taking a family walk after dinner. Sure, you can get caught up in sports and school and work just like in the states, but somehow it really truly is different.  Kiwis have a better sense of balance, I think.

Cows.  We'll definitely miss cows.  Especially black & white ones with fuzzy brown ears.  The smell  of cow poo no longer smells yucky to us, it just smells like home.

Feijoas.  We've never even heard of this fruit before coming here!  I guess they are similar to pineapple guavas, but we never ate those in the states...did you?  Here they are offered by the bushel at the side of the road.  They are sweet and delicious, and easy to eat by scooping the flesh out with a spoon.  Wish I had a feijoa tree.  We'll also miss the great kiwifruit we've had here...the golden kind whose skin isn't so fuzzy, so you can eat it like an apple.  And the New Zealand Rose apple, so crisp and sweet.  And green-skinned pumpkins - Gavin eats them straight from the pan once they've been roasted.

Mount Taranaki always being there to the East.  Have we mentioned that before?  Love seeing that mountain while biking to the store, or driving to New Plymouth, or waking up and looking out the window to see what kind of day to expect.

We'll miss having a lake as a backyard, with black swans and paradise ducks, and a horse to eat our apple cores, and a walking trail.  Griffin and I ran around the lake to try to get our flabby selves in shape (too many Opunake ice cream cones).  Our family took walks around the lake in the evenings.  Boys fed the ducks bread (RIP Bob).  I'll miss the dawn chorus of birds around the lake - magpies, ducks and the occasional tui.  


FRIENDS!!  Most of all we will miss the kind, real, big-hearted, generous, adventurous and genuine people that we have met here in Opunake.  We originally viewed this adventure as a chance to really experience a different country...we hoped to travel and find natural beauty and adventure.  What we didn't expect to find, but are SO glad we did, was a second home.  We'll miss you all so very much.

The "girls" Mary, Sharlene, Michelle, Lori & Shelley at Headlands for an after-work cocktail.

Grif with his guitar teacher Miwa

Ken & Geoff at Sugar Juice.  Geoff & Michelle Watt have been so kind to our family and are good friends.  They gave us advice, good food and sleeping bags.  Michelle looked out for Ken at work and made sure he was taken care of.  Geoff took the boys surfing and paua hunting...if only he could play ping-pong...

It has been fantastic having the Park family here as fellow "Americans in town".  Our boys have really enjoyed each other's company, and Ken & I are glad to have some card playin' friends in Opunake.  The Ackerman and Luond families are really really special people; they are the heart of what makes Opunake such a special place.  Our kids get on amazingly well.  We hope to have them for a visit in the states!

Logan, Griffin, Journey, Mia, Samuel, Isaak, Gavin, Jade & Jonah...Kiwi Buddies.
Sweet as!

E noho ra

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A farewell evening...Kia Ora everyone!

The gang with their pig noses
Friday May 27th found us celebrating six fantastic months here in Opunake, at our favorite local eatery, Sugar Juice.  Organized by Michelle, Mary, Sharlene and friends at Opunake Medical Center, it was an evening of good food and fellowship.  It made us realize how blessed we have been to have been taken in by this community.

Ken gets a nice piggy kiss from Miss (?Mister) Piggy.

Kiwis have a great sense of humor...they like to roast you!  Michelle and friends organized a "pig skit" for Ken, given his well circulated story of the pigs and the car keys in the Coromandel.  Hilarious!
Michelle the grand planner enjoys the show

We found out tonight that not only does Jarrah whip up a mean curry, he also sings!  Where else does the chef come out in his apron and belt out a few?  Allen played guitar for several hours, singing kiwi classics like Slice of Heaven.  It was a really nice evening.
Brent adds to the roast.  He informs us that we are always welcome back to work here in Opunake, as long as we bring our own car! We have really enjoyed getting to know Brent and his wife Susie. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Opunake Primary School

Griffin and Gavin just had their last day at Opunake Primary School.  Despite the "hooray, no more school" cheer, both boys walked out of there a little sad after all of the good-byes.  I think it surprised them!

Since day one, the school faculty have gone out of their way to be sure the boys felt welcome.  This is a really cool little school, and I am SO pleased with the experience that the boys have had.  Principal Lorraine Williamson is just fantastic.

Griffin with his teacher, Leo Frank.  It is new for Griffin to have a male teacher, and the strong male role modeling in education has been good for him.  Mr. Frank teaches the Year 7/8 class, and has his hands full!  Lots of rowdy boys.  He is also in charge of most of the physical education at the school, along with the boys mentoring program (another great experience for Grif) and lunch/recess games.  Thank goodness he's energetic!
Grif's painting on his classroom wall

Grif spent most of his time at "morning tea" and "lunch recess" playing sports - either basketball, rugby or bullrush. 

The school recently had a site visit from ERO, the Educational Review Office.  Classrooms were decked out with student artwork. The theme of the first term was getting to know ourselves and our community, and so colorful self-portraits abounded.  This is Gavin's self-portrait, with his descriptions of who he is and where he comes from in Maori.  We're hoping to snag it and bring it home!
First item of business on arrival - remove shoes!

Gavin with Ms. Hale

Gavin's teacher is Kylie Hale.  Ms Hale teaches one of the Year 5/6 classes.  She has been so kind to Gavin, making sure he feels welcome and included in groups and class activities.  Her classroom is also bursting with student art and projects.  She organized the most lovely farewell party for Gavin today.

Griffin loved the "tech" days.  On those days, students from his class would head over to the high school for some hands-on activities.  Opunake schools do a really nice job of making sure that students are well-rounded, with essential life skills being part of the curriculum.  Home economics, cooking and workshop  are cumpulsory.  Today he came home from school with a canvas shopping bag that he screen-printed and sewed himself on a sewing machine!

Opunake Primary School is part of a very bicultural community.  Maori and Pakeha children are equally represented.  Students learn about and embrace the Maori aspect of New Zealand's history.  Gavin and Griffin have learned phrases in Maori and greet their teachers every morning in Maori.  I am so proud of them for participating in "kapahaka", which is, according to wikipedia "an avenue for Maori people to express their heritage and cultural identity through song and dance".  About 60% of the students choose to participate, and they practice every Friday.  In honor of the boys' departure, they donned part of their uniforms last week and performed a farewell song.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Opunake...feels like home now

 The boys and I were reflecting on our stay here in Opunake yesterday while walking home from school.  We agreed that we really feel at home here.  The main street of town is as familiar now as the streets of Solana Beach.  It is impossible to walk down Tasman Street without seeing people we know.  The locals are only takes a few minutes to walk from one end of town to another, but that walk takes more and more time the longer you live here.  Always a wave, a greeting, a conversation...and sometimes a cuppa.

This is probably the busiest corner in town.  This view is of the excellent public library as well as the bank.  Directly across the street is Sugar Juice (yum) and kitty korner is John & Viola's cafe (yum).

Here's the local Four Square.  Every small town in New Zealand has one, and they are all bright yellow.  It's where you go for groceries if you don't want to drive half an hour, and for such a small store it is incredibly well stocked.  The owners are strong sponsors of community activities.  Griffin has his picture on their "wall of fame" for soccer.

On my first pass through town back in December, I thought that THIS would be the place where I would buy locally grown fresh produce.  I was somewhat disappointed to learn that it was the DVD rental one had bothered to change the sign for years.  However, my disappointment gave way to reluctant appreciation of the vast variety of movie titles available.  And...the produce at Four Square is actually pretty good, although nothing beats a bag of feijoas from a road side stand.

My other misconception on my first pass
through town was that this was where I was
going to buy locally raised meat.  Apparently
the Opunake Butchery retail shop closed the month prior to our arrival.  They do, however, still offer farm kill services, of which we had no need.  But with planning ahead you can order just about any cut of any beast and have it delivered the next day. I just really like the blue building with the word "meat" on it.

Love this theatre!  It was started in the 1920s and is quite funky inside, with a raised balcony and large downstairs gallery.  Years ago this movie house was put up for sale.  When there were no buyers, it appeared that Opunake residents would be destined to drive to New Plymouth to see a movie on the big screen.  The town council then stepped in to save the day.  The theatre is now owned by the town, and staffed entirely by volunteers.  Often there are glitches with sound, reels not working, etc.  But that is part of the fun.  Movies cost $8 and show twice a week: Fridays at 6pm, and Sundays at 7:30.  Worked out beautifully on many a Friday walked to the 6pm movie while Ken & I had dinner across the street at Sugar Juice.  Nothing better.  The movie theater is used for many town fundraisers, and is really an Opunake icon.

Just a few short blocks from the bustling metropolis of main street, you can walk around the lake admiring black swans, stroll on the beach collecting sea glass, or wander through a paddock with cows.  All of which we've done quite frequently.  As I wrap up this blog post and finish my cup of tea, I'm contemplating which adventure to strike out on today...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


We live in the Taranaki region of New Zealand's north island.  By far the dominant feature of the region is beautiful majestic Mt. Taranaki.  The region is arranged circularly around the mountain, with many streets having an "upper" part between surf highway 45 and the mountain, and a "lower" part between surf highway 45 and the ocean.  Mt. Taranaki is visible from nearly everywhere you stand in Taranaki, unless your view is blocked by a large building.  Given that there aren't many large buildings in the area, the views are grand.

There is so much regional pride here.  Official slogan of the region is "like no other".  Also found often in print is simply "legendary".  The mountain is a source of much Maori folklore.  Legend has it that Taranaki was originally located more north.  He was in love with the beautiful bush-clad mountain Pihanga, and battled Mt. Tongariro for Pihanga.  Taranaki unfortunately lost this battle, and retreated southward toward the ocean to his present day location, creating the Wanganui River on the way (remember our canoe trip...?)  If interested, go to wikipedia and search Taranaki legend for the full account.

The mountain is visible more days than not, but on grey days may hide beneath cloud cover.  We have become so used to looking to the East and seeing that gorgeous peak.  The appearance of the mountain changes with the lighting and weather conditions.  Sunsets are amazing!  When we arrived it was snow-covered, by the end of February all of the snow had melted, and now in May it is snow-capped again.

I can't describe what it's like to be doing something mundane...walking home from school, watching a rugby game, hanging laundry...and then to glance up to the East and have the visual treat of Mt Taranaki before me.  It is easy to feel anchored here.  Between the mountain and the sea, you always know where you are.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saturday Surf Sessions

Every Saturday through April, Team Taylor would head straight out from our house and down the steps to the beach for Saturday morning surf.  The Junior Surf Club, run by Opunake Boardriders, was fantastic and we miss it!

Instructors watched for rips and gave advice, while the kids just surfed, surfed, surfed.  Many of the mornings were beautiful, and we'd all stay on the beach for hours enjoying the sunshine.  Other mornings were not so pleasant, and we huddled in the drizzle until they were finished!

Grif and Logan on one of those not-so-sunny days...but surf was good

Mia rocked it this day

Jonah & Sue

Surf Saturdays are a family affair.  The littler ones or the ones who didn't want to surf all hung out on the beach making driftwood sculptures or digging in the sand or just hanging out and watching.

Team Taylor after a great session.  Going for a few hours every Saturday morning really boosted the boys' confidence and helped them gain skills through repetition.  It was also a great way to meet other kids and families who are adventurous and outdoorsy.  We really appreciated the time & energy of the folks who run the Jr Surf program: Murray, Harry, Dean and others.

Grif, Logan and Gavin packing it in after a several hour session.  In the background...Opunake Surf Lifesaving Club.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another player of the game!

Griffin has been spending his Saturday mornings, rain or shine, playing soccer for Opunake Coastal.  It's a co-ed recreational soccer league.  This Saturday his team played an all-boys team from New Plymouth.  Grif made a number of great defensive plays, and earned player-of-the game for the second week in a row!

Becks reviews plays with Mia

Although the play isn't as competitive as his soccer in the states, Grif is enjoying getting out there and brushing up his skills.  Practice every Thursday afternoon and games every Saturday give life in Opunake a bit more of a familiar feel.

In New Zealand, for both school and recreational sports, teams are often co-ed until the age of fifteen or so.  Both boys play basketball for their school, on co-ed teams.  My boys weren't sure what to make of this at first, but I think they've come around.  In the case of Griffin's soccer team, for the most part, the girls are just as fast and skilled as the boys.

Grif clowns around here with Mia and Logan.

Player of the game gets a chocolate bar and a voucher for some goodies from the
 local Four Square.  He now has his picture up on their "wall of fame".
Good on ya', Grif!