Monday, April 28, 2014

Grand finale

It's funny, when we mentioned to friends, co-workers and my friendly neighborhood Pak n' Save cashier that we were going to the Catlins most of them had never even heard of it. And they were all born and raised here. Granted, we had the Grand Canyon in our back yard and the last time we went was 11 years ago. We took a tiny charter plane (cue panic attack) filled with Japanese tourists, Kylie was a baby and threw up all over the people behind us. It's very hard to apologize in a different language for your baby upchucking all over the only pair of clothes they have to wear for the next 8 hours and to apologize to the entire plane that the rest of the flight will now smell like vomit. Maybe we haven't gone back yet because we're still not fully recovered. Man, even I lost my train of thought with that tangent. Where was's a shame that so many people have missed out on this little pocket of the country because it has shot right to the top of my list of favorites, and it is next to impossible to pick favorites here. It was a long drive home but I had a whole list of stops along the way to break it up. First up was Tunnel Hill, an old abandoned railway tunnel that was dug out entirely by hand picks and shovels. It took years to finish and two workers lost their lives in the process. Which of course led the kids to believe it was haunted and they spent the whole walk looking for catacombs and humming the Indiana Jones theme song.

I love all the beautiful old churches in the small towns we drive through.

After eating lunch at a park where my fingers turned to ice while I sliced apples, we explored Tunnel Beach (apparently we have a tunnel theme going on here). The weather warmed up and we couldn't believe how lucky we were to get three days of no rain. So the story of this beach is that in the 1800's the wealthy Cargill family that founded Dunedin wanted a private beach away from the prying eyes of the public, so they had a tunnel excavated through sandstone to access a remote and pristine private beach. This was a birthday gift for his daughter who tragically drowned at that same beach a short time after. It is set among a wild and stunning coastline and has sort of a Shakespearean tragedy vibe. I give it a 9 out of 10 stars, only because I could do without the long treacherous walk back up carrying 3 coats, 1 a dump truck, a 5 year old on my back and a partridge in a pear tree. But no pain no gain.

The beach can only be accessed through this long narrow tunnel

Not only was the beach spectacular, but there were so many caves, tunnels and huge climbing rocks to keep the kids entertained for days. The sandstone cliffs are supposedly filled with fossils and whale remains and are a geologist's dream, but we were too busy playing to pay much attention.

We'll call this "staring off into the horizon and contemplating the purpose of life"

We'll call this "staring off into the horizon and contemplating the purpose of life, part II"

So I took like 10 pictures in here because this eerie blue light kept showing up in each one. I'm not saying this place is haunted, but I am saying I don't blame that poor girl who drowned if she wants to keep coming back here. It is pretty amazing after all.

So, Dunedin. Let's talk. Everyone said to not waste our time in Dunedin. And I am loving it when I set my expectations low then get blown out of the water. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but really. You and your charming architecture and street side cafes just need to stop being so cute. You're making all the other cities look bad. It really did make me so sad that we didn't get to experience Christchurch before the earthquake, from what I gather it was all this and then some.

We spotted this spire from the freeway (which do you know just how rare a freeway is in NZ) and like all good husbands do, Jason tracked it down so we could pop in and ogle at the ornate interior.

Of course we had to visit Baldwin street, the steepest residential street in the world. Once a year they have this Jaffa race where they roll tens of thousands of these iconic round candies down the street. Can you just imagine. Years ago some kids died while trying to race down in garbage cans. So many tragedies!

So this was the grand finale, the piece resistance, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. You get the point. First there's a lighthouse. You know by now how I feel about lighthouses. Then we walked out on this peninsula that was bursting at the seams with wildlife. Seal pups splashing in tide pools, penguins returning to the beach after a long day of fishing and giant sea birds (yes, that's totally their technical name) nesting in the cliffs. Then they all started climbing up the peninsula and before we knew it there were seals wrestling only a few feet away and penguins waddling right at our feet. I mean you haven't really lived life until you've seen a penguin waddle in real life. It's the cutest. And then we were graced with the most spectacular sunset. The ever changing sky just kept competing with the animals for our attention. And being able to experience it all with the people I love was just so surreal. I wanted to inhale it all in and never exhale out.

This picture makes me laugh because it is just so Maddox. He is so odd in the absolute best way possible. Always the very last, always talking to himself and never walking in a straight line. At this moment he was deep in thought about the best way to make his own bread dough. He came to the conclusion that it would have to be by soaking a piece of bread in water. And that's all he talked about the entire way home and it's the very first thing he did when he woke up the next morning. Imagine his disappointment when it didn't work.

We had one last stop in Oamaru to eat pizza at a park with one of our favorite Arizona missionaries that got transferred here from our current ward. Of all the things we did this park was a fan favorite among the kids. All the parks here are pretty awesome, but this one takes the cake with this huge slide, hamster wheel, disc swing, trains and zip line. Plus the sky was clear and the stars were beyond spectacular. Without any light polution we could see the Milky Way, not just stars but like a real galaxy. And then we saw blue penguins (not to be confused with the yellow eyed penguins we saw earlier). I know, like this trip just keeps trumping itself. The missionaries showed us the best place to see them at the wharf and after searching long and hard Kylie spotted one and we were so excited. Ryder still remembers to bless the blue penguins in his breakfast prayers. And thus concludes the Young's take the Catlins portion of our New Zealand adventure. And it's one of my favorite chapters yet.

Friday, April 25, 2014

An unconventional Easter

I don't go over the top on birthday parties. I have yet to master the fine art of the waterfall braid. And pretty sure I'm the only mom feeding her kids sugared up breakfast cereals instead of green smoothies. But that's something I know how to do. I was a little sad to be out of town for Easter. The brown eggs had already ruined our egg dying tradition and instead of an elaborate yarn maze leading to their generous baskets overflowing with candy and presents, I threw jelly beans on their sleeping bags while they slept and lined the edges of the navy and gold microfiber couches with chocolates. Now, I've really grown to appreciate big chain hotels with their crisp white sheets, clean showers, continental breakfasts, and most importantly their central heat. This holiday park got enchanted fairytale points for the beautiful white stallion that roamed freely through the forest next to it, but the cottage itself left much to be desired. The only source of heat was a small wall heater so we moved all the kids mattresses into the living room so they could keep warm (and then the power went out in the middle of the night, but that's another story). As the sun shone through the dingy lace curtains across our faded floral bed spread the next morning, Ryder stood at the foot of my bed with his pajama bottoms twisted up, his belly poking out and a confused look on his face and asked, "you give me treats mom??". I whispered that it was the Easter bunny then laid there with a smile on my face as he ran to wake up the other kids and listened as they squealed in delight and scrambled to find all the candy. They spent the next little while bartering candy and paying Maddox one jelly bean for each minute of a back massage. Instead of a big breakfast we ate three day old muffins that I made before we left and drank half frozen Orange Juice (ghetto fridge problems). I was really sad that being hours away from the nearest branch meant not being able to go to church on such a special Sunday, but instead we spent the day marveling at God's creations and the long drives and walks provided the perfect setting for some spiritual discussions. Jayden really impressed me with his deep thoughts and questions. Judy and Pete joined along on some of our explorations today and the first stop was the McLean waterfalls. The jungle vine swing on the hike up was a good omen.

So were the little teasers along the way

We finally made it and our theory about if you've seen one waterfall then you've seen them all, flew right out the window. Mind officially blown. If it were 50 degrees warmer I would have stripped down to my skivvies and jumped right in. It was incredible.

Next up on the agenda was the Cathedral Caves. One of the largest sea caves in the world and the fact that they can only be visited at low tide and you still run the risk of a freak wave coming sorta added to the thrill. And the scenery made me stop in my tracks and say a silent prayer of gratitude for the opportunity to be here and experience the sound of every crashing wave and the feel of every grain of sand between my toes.

From there we had one more set of falls that just couldn't be missed. The drive included pastel coastal scenery, an eternal golf course of rolling green hills and about 283 rounds of "Do you want to build a snowman". And a vow that our next car will most definitely have a built in DVD player.

They climbed in this huge hollow tree and the tour group that walked by got quite the kick out of it. As we speak, images of my kids in a tree are now circulating around China.

The Purakaunui falls were spectacular. I expected to see a Toucan fly by and hear monkeys calling in the trees. And then I looked down at the gloves on my hands and the scarf around my neck and was reminded that we were in a rainforest, just not a tropical one. But even under a wool coat they were pretty impressive to look at.

Our last stop was Nugget point. It's no lie that I have a thing for light houses and this one satisfied every single last one of my lighthouse needs. Ryder fell asleep in the car so we tag teamed this one and Maddox and I were on the first shift. The 20 minute walk took us about 45 minutes because he loves to stop and smell the flowers. And try to catch butterflies. And explore hideouts under trees. And check the tension in the wire fence. And read every plaque. And re read every plaque because I talked too fast the first time. And examine every rock that has the slightest potential to be a diamond. I think this boy was put into my life to teach me to find joy in the journey. And to teach me that I really stink at practicing patience. But I loved holding his little hand in mine as we stood on the edge of the earth and talked about what a beautiful world we live in.

We went back and cooked up a proper Easter dinner of roast chicken and new potatoes. I sort of felt like we were on the set of A Christmas Story as we ate our feast around our retro wood laminate table surrounded by peeling peony print wallpaper. But it was sort of cozy and the view out the window of the setting sun over the green hills was peaceful. We ended our Easter with a little devotional and testimony meeting and a reminder that sometimes all the bunny fluff can get in the way of the true meaning of Easter. Slowly I'm learning that less is more and simplicity is divine.