There are so many flavors and ways to organize a big chunk of time abroad, we were dizzy with the possibilities when we started planning. It was fascinating to read how other people had done it (in books) or were doing it in real time (via blogs) so we followed the progress of several families rattling around the world and shamelessly gleaned ideas and tips. A contact through my daughter’s summer camp led us to the Demers, in the midst of ten months of travel with their three daughters and, maybe because of their similar ages, reading their entries made our own upcoming travels feel much more real for Della. She watched for their updates eagerly. We were astonished when we saw they were stopping for a school term in, of all places, Mt Maunganui, New Zealand.
Coincidentally, we have a connection to Mt Maunganui. My mother’s uncle emigrated to New Zealand and his son, Fred, and wife, Cora, lived in the Mount, as it’s called. Visiting them has been a part of every visit to New Zealand for me, the first time in 1994 when I was a college student doing a semester abroad here, and then again in 2002 when we shipped Cora (Fred had passed away by then) our cold weather gear after a month long trek in Nepal. We continued through Southeast Asia unencumbered by fleeces and long underwear, and when we got to New Zealand six months later, there was our grubby package in Cora’s tidy guest room closet. We passed through in 2011 as well, when Cora kindly let our camper van spend a few nights in her driveway. Mt Maunganui is a compact, walkable beach town, drenched with the type of piercing sunlight that will earn you a lecture on sun protection from well meaning Kiwis if you look unprepared (sun hats are mandatory for kids at school). The last time we were here we had excellent fish n’ chips, watched the surfers, played on the immaculate playground, walked on the beach and in the evening swam in the complex of public heated salt water pools from which we could watch folks parasailing from the summit of the mount. The Demer’s girls were going to school barefoot and swimming every day. Hello? We wanted to spend a term in Mt Maunganui, too!
To stop for two months in a beautiful place the midst of so much movement to collect ourselves, send the kids to “real” school and enjoy the company of other kids; the more we thought about it, the smarter it seemed, and as it turned out, it wasn’t that difficult. The school had a process, there were forms to fill out, the Demers gave us some direction. We found a house to rent and badda bing, we had a plan. To our surprise, the kids were really into this stop as well, often citing it as something they were looking forward to when asked about the trip.
We arrived about two weeks ago, and immediately launched into a string of real world errands that I had not missed. School visits, haircuts, school uniform shopping, library cards, grocery shopping for packed lunches. I can’t overstate how very strange it was to have our roaming come to a full and sudden stop. It took a little while to get truly settled; the first place we had rented was long on original 1950’s New Zealand beach cottage charm, but a little short on comfort. We found another place that is as cute as a button and closer to the schools, with a working shower and broadband internet to boot, and we are now as happy as can be. The kids are settling into school and making friends, enjoying the novelty of optional shoes, playgrounds that are more fun and less safe, calling bathing suits “togs” and morning snack “tea” and about a hundred other details that remind us daily; we’re speaking English and feeling pretty comfortable, but we are so not in the US.
What will we adults do with our time here? Well, I’m a person who’s never short on projects, cooking, crafting or otherwise. I’ve been known to render my own lard, experiment with cultured butter and make ravioli. Eight weeks seems like enough time to work on research and planning for the next leg of our trip, visit with Cora, explore the area and take some nice walks, cook a little, have plenty of coffee and lunch dates, chaperone a field trip or two and knit something with decadent New Zealand wool (do you think I could crowdfund a continuous supply of possum merino?) Also, Vance and I are going to trade off kid duties and plan to do some solo hiking- I head out on the four day/three night Lake Waikaremoana Track next week. We have some weekends trips in the works, too; Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula where you can dig your own soaking tub over one of the thermal vents that surface under the sand, Matamata where the set of Hobbiton remains for all willing to pay $75 to see it, the Skyline Luge in Rotorua for Miles’s birthday, Hawkes Bay for more wine and Tongariro National Park where we hope to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a one day hike that goes past Mt. Ngauruhoe aka Mt. Doom to Tolkien fans. We’ve promised the kids some down time as well, they both would like a day or two where they can remain in their pajamas. It doesn’t seem unreasonable. So, 6a Campbell St, Mt Maunganui is our new base. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by!