Hi, Everyone!  Well, as you may know if you follow me on Facebook, I have been out of country for a month.  My elder son lives in New Zealand, so my stateside son John and grandson Joshua accompanied me to see them for Christmas.  It was a fabulous trip, all and all, but we had a few exciting and frustrating moments with our travel arrangements, which began before we ever left home.

We worked with a travel agent to plan our vacation, and prior to our departure, she sent us a rather muddled and difficult to follow outline of our departure dates, flight numbers, lodging arrangements, and costs, which we paid by credit card.  Only there was a typo in her cover letter, which read, “Your trip itinerary for December 19th.”

Okay, I know it was our fault for failing to closely examine all the details of our journey, but instead we assumed that we were leaving on December 19th.  On Friday the 18th, John and I both got packed to leave.  I stayed home to enjoy a relaxing evening and get a good night’s rest before we left.  John went out for a farewell, good-wishes dinner with friends.

During the meal, John’s brother, Sid Jr., called on his cell and asked, “So how is Fiji?”  The plan was for us to stop over in Fiji for a two-day rest and then resume our flight to New Zealand.  It is an extremely long trip and exhausting.  John laughed at his brother’s question and replied, “We’re not there yet, bro.  We don’t leave until tomorrow.”

Sid said, “No, John, you and Mom are supposed to be in Fiji right now.  You were scheduled to fly out today.”  (Joshua, who spent Christmas with his mom, was to fly over by himself and join us in New Zealand on the 29th.)  At first, Sid felt sure John was joking about being in Oregon, so he called me.  “Please, Mom, don’t tell me you’re at home in Oregon,” he said.  Well, I couldn’t grant that request, because I was at home in Oregon.  I got up to check our flight itinerary, and it was an “oh-no” moment.  Sid was correct.  We had missed our departing flight.

John’s dinner was ruined.  He borrowed someone’s cell phone to call me while he had his own phone pressed to his other ear, and after a great deal of pulling strings and paying nearly a thousand dollars to reschedule our flight out for Saturday, he got everything straightened out.  We would land in Fiji a day late, cutting our stay there a day short, but the remainder of our flights would remain the same, going to New Zealand and also coming home to Oregon.

I’ll tell you a bit about our trip in a moment, but first I must let you know that all did not go well when we flew into LAX on our trip home.  American Airlines decided not to honor the validity of our tickets from Los Angeles to Seattle and back to Redmond’s Payne Field, our home airport.  Joshua, who had flown over on a different flight, was allowed to leave LAX as planned, on the originally booked flight, but American Airlines demanded nearly another thousand dollars to reschedule John’s and my flights.

If you have ever flown on Alaskan Air, you’ve heard and read that the airline is greatly committed to customer service.  I always thought, “Yeah, right, but how committed?”  Well, now I know.  An employee of Alaskan Air muddled his way through our itinerary, saw that we did indeed have valid tickets, and after many minutes of haggling with American Airlines, he got the other company to honor our reservations without our having to pay for the privilege.  We were rerouted on other flights, this time flying from LAX to Portland, and from Portland to Redmond.

We were very grateful to Alaskan Air!  The only problem was that our flight connections in Portland were extremely tight.  Our flight from LAX was to land at Portland International at 7:00 P.M., and our departing flight for Redmond left at 7:10.  In addition to that, we faced a four hour layover at LAX.

By the time we flew out of LAX, we had been traveling without sleep for nearly 48 hours.  I cannot sleep on airplanes, but I did on that flight.  I’m happy to say that once we landed in Portland, we were able to reach our other gate and board our homebound plane.

Now for our trip.  When we reached Auckland, Sid and his eleven-year-old son picked us up at the airport.  I was delighted to finally see their remodeled home in person.  It is lovely.  And that first night, I met my first share-time cat.  His name is Keanu, and lives next door, but his human mom started a doggy daycare business, and Keanu no longer likes being at his house.  So he now stays at Sid and Mary’s house a great deal of the time.  They have food and water dishes down for him, and he is very sweet.  In the background you can see my grandson Jonas’s drum set.  In that alcove there is also a piano and Sid’s guitar.  The family enjoys jamming together.

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Keanu recognized in me a kitty mom, so we got along nicely, and he was soon coming to find me when he wanted food.  It made me miss my pets at home, but it was also very nice.

I was amazed by the fact that Keanu never once attempted to climb the Christmas tree, which held a place of honor in the living room.

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On Christmas Eve, late at night, we attended a religious vigil as a family.  The kids were up early the next morning to open gifts.  John had stuffed presents–all unwrapped and out of the boxes–into his luggage, so we arrived with gifts for everyone.  I sneaked upstairs to wrap them.  My big present to each Kiwi grandson was a hundred dollar bill in a Christmas card.  I don’t know how Liam, the eleven-year-old, will spend his money, but Jonas, eight, is saving to buy a steer.  His parents are looking to buy a farm, and this little guy plans to raise his own beeves for a profit.

During our stay in Devonport, referred to as the North Shore of Auckland and across the harbor from the city, Mary and the boys finally managed to catch and cage their pet female bunny, who had escaped her gorgeous rabbit run and was living under a back neighbor’s house.  The plan was to take said bunny to a friend’s farm until Mary could arrange for the bunny to be spayed, something she couldn’t make happen during the holidays because the vets were taking only urgent calls.  (There are several rabbits running free in the neighborhood, and Mary doesn’t wish to contribute to a huge population of bunnies.)  Rosalene, who owns the farm, is delightful.  While there to deliver the bunny, who will now remain on the farm, running wild with other rabbits, we observed a man named Hamish as he sheared sheep.  That was interesting, and John got a lesson in sheep shearing.  John is the one wearing the dark blue overalls.

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The morning that Joshua arrived, we left Devonport to tour the North Island of New Zealand.  Sid had booked a fishing trip on a large vessel as an early birthday gift for John, so our first stop was at a holiday park near the sea.  Mary’s mother, Julie, worried a bit about how I might handle staying at a holiday park.  The accommodations are very basic, with cubicles filled with cots.  The restroom blocks are at the rear of the building, and there is a community kitchen.

Julie shouldn’t have worried.  I’ve done a lot of camping in my day, and the holiday park offered plenty of amenities, including a pool.  It reminded me of camping, only without a tent, although some visitors in other sections of the park were staying in tents.

Above is a shot of Liam practicing soccer, the boardwalk in front of our cubicle, and Sid in the community kitchen, where he was helping John with dinner.  Note the boardwalk.  The cubicle was crammed tight with all of us, so John got an extra mattress and slept on the boardwalk outside our room each night.  Each morning, a man staying next door would lean over him and say, “So they made you sleep out here again, eh?”

This particular night, the guys were cooking their catches from the fishing trip, and it was quite late.  As you can see on the far left, our quarters were a little cramped.  Center you see both my sons, hard at work over our late dinner, and to the far right you see the park manager writing a note to guests on the blackboard that no cooking is allowed in the community kitchen after 9:30 P.M.  She was very sweet about allowing the guys to finish fixing our dinner, even though they made her work a bit late.

Our next adventure was to visit an old whaling town named Russell.  Mary booked us a boat trip to see the Bay of Islands.  On the left above, you see a very windblown and chilled version of me.  On the right, you see The Hole in the Rock.  The boat was similar to a ferry, quite a large vessel, and the sea was rough.  But somehow the pilot managed to navigate the boat through the hole, which was pretty breathtaking.  We also saw dolphins, which played with the boats.  I have many photos of the islands that pepper this bay, but it was a very overcast day, and few of them do the islands justice.

We spent New Year’s Eve in Russell.  Above on the left, a bit farther down the byway, we sat beneath a tree along the harbor shore to watch fireworks and bring in the new year.  It was lovely.  To the right is a swordfish that someone caught earlier that day and had hung from a pulley to show it off.  I had never seen a swordfish except in pictures.  I would not want to encounter one in the ocean.

Before leaving Russell, we stopped at a viewpoint for pictures.  Top left, I featured Joshua with the ocean behind him. The next to the right is a photo of the gorgeous holiday home Mary and Sid rented for us to stay in at Taupo until the holiday home at her parents’ place was empty enough for us to stay there.  The third to the right is a picture from the deck of the rented holiday home, showing Lake Taupo in the distance.  Far top right is a photo of a gorgeous waterfall somewhere near Taupo.  The water carved its own path through stone and was the most gorgeous blue!  At the bottom from right to left, are Mary’s brother, her nephew Dorian, and Joshua.  As you can see, we were enjoying a lovely dinner.  Bottom right is a shot of a lawn barbecue dinner, which shows Lake Taupo edging up to the lawn and public walkway.  It is incredibly beautiful there.  From left to right at the back are Mary in the pink sweater, her father Dave, a surgeon who still volunteers to work in places where medical care is needed, and Sid.  In the foreground, from left to right, are John in the bright yellow shirt, Dorian, and Mary’s mother, Julie, who is a physical therapist who travels with Dave to treat people who need her services while he does surgery.

I wanted to show you a picture of Joshua wind surfing.  He failed to get up the first night, but the morning before our departure, he finally mastered the feat.  Unfortunately the photo won’t load for me, possibly because I’ve included so many.

In my next installment I will do a show and tell about Fiji.

Until then, bug hugs to all of you.


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