I’m back from a visit to Canada with a refreshed Canadian accent. No flash Fiji stopovers on the way back, just a quick stop in Toronto and another in San Francisco with my bike in a box and two person-sized suitcases. After clearing NZ biosecurity, I headed straight to the beach and a winery tour in Northland to catch up with the Auckland posse.

Nothing much had changed in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui upon my return. I moved back into my old bedroom in my old flat with my old flatmate. My first day back to work happened to be International Vegetarian Day, so I was welcomed with a shared lunch. Vegetarian cooking is pretty tough for the Kiwis. Mostly, everyone resorted to substituting meat with eggs. I guess I still have some work to do here in sheep country!

My friends spoiled me on my birthday. Eleanor even made me a cake in the shape of a Kiwibird. Not sure if it’s appropriate for a vegetarian to eat an endangered species, even if it is chocolate, but I succumbed. We went out and celebrated as you would in any country – with friends, food and fun!  Mountain biking the next day was a wee bit wobbly.  

Jack arrived safe and sound directly into Tauranga a couple of weeks after I did. He didn’t have to start work as a web developer until the following week, so he had lots of time to explore Tauranga. And to buy a new guitar.

Some of the rehab team at the hospital signed up to play beach volleyball. We call ourselves Allied Force as we are 2 speech therapists, 2 occupational therapists and 2 physiotherapists - all allied health professionals. Our coach is the second ranked beach volleyball player in NZ and also happens to be the boyfriend of one of our teammates. Unfortunately, we haven’t quite made it up to his level, despite his best efforts and 6 pairs of very red post-practice forearms.

New Zealanders celebrate Labour Day with a long weekend the third weekend of October to kick off the summer. We made it a four day weekend and tramped Lake Waikaremoana, one of the two Great Walks (three if you count the paddle) on the North Island. We expected beautiful scenery and we weren’t disappointed. What we didn’t expect was the snow. At first, it was a novelty. After all, we weren’t expecting to find snow in NZ, on the North Island, in late spring. As we climbed higher to the bluff, the snow became less fascinating and just wet and slippery. Unfortunately, the wood stove in our hut wasn’t working, so we quickly made dinner and hopped into our sleeping bags, hoping by some small miracle that our socks and shoes would be dry by morning. The next day, clear skies and spectacular views distracted us from our wet shoes and socks as we descended in the snow, then the mud. By the third day, we were dry and tramping comfortably in shorts and singlets (tank tops). It was almost warm enough to swim in the cold, clear, inviting lake!

Labour Day weekend was also the time for a large Food & Wine show in the same area as our tramp. Twice on our journey home, we were stopped by crews of police officers who wanted to ensure we had gotten enough sleep over the weekend. We enjoyed free flash coffees and teas and sausage rolls. I skipped the sausages. Since moving to NZ, I have been screened for drinking and driving 3 times at various times of the day. Road safety seems to be a high priority.

Tallulah found us a new, great place to live… closer to the Mount and the "main beach." Moving day was chaos, as moving days tend to be. We couldn’t fit one of the beds down the stairs so ended up dropping it over the balcony. It seems to have made it safely as I now sleep on it. The new place is very cute, more like a bach than a house. It's a classic Lockwood brand house that creaks and bangs very loudly when it settles at night. It woke us all up the first few nights thinking we had an intruder! We have a little yard where Tallulah grows fruits and vegetables. Our neighbours have a beautiful rose garden. Many of the vines and bushes hang over our fence into our yard, so we enjoy them, too. It’s a 6km run from our house, along the boardwalk, around the base of the mount and back again. Best of all, we’re just a minute from the beach!

We've been doing a lot of biking since we've moved and ride to work almost everyday. There are many bikes routes, though they tend to be a little unpredictable. One ends abruptly leaving the cyclist sandwiched between a highway lane and an on-ramp. S-c-a-r-y. I avoid that one. We’ve been down to the Redwood Forest for mountain biking quite a bit. It's a glorious place for mountain biking with a huge selection of clearly graded trails. With practice, I’ve been able to tackle some slightly harder trails, but mostly I’m getting better at falling off my bike.

Highlight of the month:  The best one-day tramp on earth - Tongariro Crossing.

In the morning on the day Jack and I went, the sky was cloudy and you could just make out a faint line where the clouds broke at the tops of the mountains. The shuttle bus driver promised the clouds would burn off by 10am and he was right. The tramp began with flat, dusty, gravelly terrain where we could feel the heat from the sun and the volcanic rock at our feet. After about an hour of hiking, we abruptly began the steep, rocky ascent called the ‘Devil’s Staircase’. This section was quite relentless in its challenge on the cardiovascular system leaving most of us huffing and puffing. Once we finally reached the top we were treated with the view back to where we had come from. Everything looked tiny! We tramped along a plateau with close-up views of Mount Ngarahoe and Mount Tongariro. Another ascent brought us to the South Crater and the Red Crater. Once over the final peak, my first glimpses of the Green and Blue Lakes took my breath away. Careful focus was required to safely navigate down the very steep decline. We picnicked at the Green Lakes while suspiciously monitoring the nearby steaming volcanic vents. The emerald-coloured water was cold, but wasn’t harmful to our probing fingers. We tramped through a small snowy area on the way to Blue Lake before zigzagging our way down to the tree line. The lush, green forest path was partnered with a bubbling, babbling brook all the way to the finish. Overall, an amazing day!

One lazy Sunday, we hired kayaks and explored the Tauranga Harbour and Wairoa River. Our Kiwi friends seem to be enjoying our tourist, try-everything attitude and we're thrilled to have them along on our adventures. The day ended up to be a sort of NZ safari with a gaggle of sea kayaks. We spotted stingrays, goats, sheep, cows, horses, and a yak. We even dined with donkeys! No white water or even classifiable rapids, but lots of fun.

Hawke's Bay is rumoured to be the sunniest part of NZ and home to many excellent wineries. We decided to explore the area on bicycle. Tandem bicycle. Some key things you should know if you’re looking to ride a bicycle-built-for-two: The heavier person should always go in the front, one should not attempt to take any turns too tight (or perhaps, to take any turns at all), and you must trust the person in the back as, in the rear position, pedalling is optional. After learning these lessons, we proceeded through a series of breweries, wineries and chocolate factories with the Aucklanders. Yum!

The hub of Hawke's Bay is Napier. Napier is also known as the Art Deco capital of the world. This is due to a very large earthquake that occurred in 1931 and wiped out all of the buildings, necessitating rebuilding in the distinctive style of the era. Most of the Art Deco features are on the second floor of buildings in the central business district and some of them incorporate Maori symbols.

We explored the top of Te Mata Peak, the highest spot in the area at 399 metres. Maori legend has it that the peak was formed when, as part of a series of challenges to prove his love to a beautiful woman, Te Mata choked when attempting to eat through a hill. Te Mata Peak is said to be the silhouette of his body curled up in defeat next to a hill with a bite out of it. From Te Mata Peak you can see all the way to Mount Ruapehu.

What NZ lacks in native mammals it makes up for in native birds. At low tide, we hiked on the cliff-lined beach to a gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers with hundreds of yellow-headed gannets. Luckily, they don’t advertise the smell of the colony or we might have skipped this one!

Last weekend marked the start of my race season with my first triathlon. The starting line for this one was only a kilometer from home with a swim through the bay, a cycle on the beachfront and a run around the mount. Jack is immersed in swim training with his sights on a future triathlon. The highlight of our weekend didn’t happen until after the race when dolphins frolicked their way through the bay!