Birthday in New York

What a fantastic end to our big trip! A big day out in the city that never sleeps! It seems that we havent slept that much, either, burning the candle at both ends and our bodies still slighty thinking we are New Zealand. Never mind though, we managed to pack a lot in to our last day!

We firstly set off up the Rockerfeller Tower to admire the view of the city and in particular the Empire State Building. The lift takes you up 64 floors in less than a minute and the giddying heights are truly tremendulous. We looked across Central Park and our cycling route of the day before and south down to the Statue of Liberty. The buildings go on and on, crammed in to every concieveable building space, with new skyscrapers jutting up against a few dwarf like older buildings. It was hard to loose perspective on how high you are when everything else is so high as well; but to look to the ground and see the taxis and the people, you certainly felt your height! It was warm being that close to the sun so we sat on the shady side and had the first of a couple of pressie moments (the twins had wrapped and planned for a different pressie at each stop…wow!).

After a refreshment break we headed out of the Rockerfeller, towards Grand Central Station, side tracked only by the Lego store (very happy Finn…)

Grand Central was like being on a film set….Witness, Madagascar, Arthur (anyone name some more??) ….it is a lovely building, tardis like in its size, with more underground than you would ever see above. We headed for the Magnolia Bakery, the store that claims to have started the cupcake revolution, and indulged in another birthday moment. Glorious.

From outside we got a glimpse of the Chrysler Building, the best night-lit tower of them all and watched a fire truck come and go.

We headed into Bloomingdales and spent some money and onto FAO Swartz (in a yellow taxi!) the toy shop featured in Tom Hanks movie “Big”. The kids of course played on the big piano but didn’t spend any money! (and daddy got a few mins+ in the iconic 5th Avenue Apple store (that’s computers!), just next door!

From there we headed to Times Square and had an amazing meal at Juniors just off Broadway. The burgers were huge and juicy and the chips thick and fat! We had cake and candles (although couldnt manage the cake til later!) and a lovely surprise presant (a beautiful NZ heart with a tui on it).
We came out on Times Square and our breath was stopped as we gazed round the dazzling and brighter than daylight neon.

We got back to the hotel asleep on our feet, but again, the little fish couldn’t resist a last swim!

We woke this morning and decided that even though we didnt need to be at the airport til late afternoon, we wouldn’t do a rush trip back into the city, rather conserving our energy for the journey home. We are all ready to be back and looking forward to our own beds!

Its been amazing for us to know so many people have been reading this – we hope its kept you in touch with us in a good way while we have been away. It has been good for us to write down our travels and a few of our thoughts ( although not many, much more processing to be done of all we have experienced and learnt about the world, ourselves and each other).
Being away has been amazing but coming home will be just as good!


Central Park

They say the Park is unmissable. Partly to do with its vast scale and size on the island of Manhatten, but also just because of what it is and what it contains. Every kind of New York life can be found there and everything a New Yorker could want for recreation. It is a beautiful gallery to architecture and a memorial to anyone who wants a fountain, a statue, a bench or a tree named after them. It is the place to busk, to sing, to sell, to jog, to cycle, to love, to play baseball, to sunbathe, to frisbee, to swim, to row, to eat, to meet, to watch……

In order for us to explore its 43acres we hired bikes. Much negotiation needed to play off the different offers from the guys around the gates. It turns out they all work for the same shop but get a different level of commission according to the price they get! We, of course, thanks to simons financial negotiation, got a good deal! We got “tag-along” bikes with the kids attached to the back of ours with a wheel, handle bars and pedals.

We cycled around to explore and we went to the “world famous” (a claim quite a lot of New York places make!) Zabars deli to collect a picnic. This included an exciting cycle up Broadway!

We continued to explore including a brief mooch in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then continued up to the pool (the pool with wierd rules…ask us later!) for a cool off.

We returned the bikes through the midst of the joggers – you would not beleive the number of New Yorkers who come out after work for a run round Central Park in the evening….it looked like the start of the London Marathon!

We returned to the hotel exhausted…..not too much for the kids to have another swim though….

Ground Zero and Lady Liberty

We had another jet-lag night so all woke up late. However this had given NYC time to wake up and get moving post-Irene. Nearly all transport was back on and functioning (although not all Jersey buses judging from the bus garage we passed (see photo)) as NY breathed a huge sigh of relief as they had got off relatively lightly. Tonight the Irene death toll stands at 30 and the pictures of the flooding up country are frightening. We really didn’t fare badly.

We headed to Ground Zero to see what was being done in preparation for the 9/11 10th anniversary. It so happens that the firefighters national games are being held in NY, so the place is heaving with muscly men, mostly, it felt, gathered around the memorials today! So we had to fight our way through the said muscly men and glimpse at the new memorial.

They have built two square fountain/waterfall pools in the footprints of the twin towers and a new museum beside them. They are also building a new single tower “One World Tower” so called to reflect the need for peace and understanding. When it is finished it will dominate the skyline just as the twin towers did. It will not be ready for this years opening, but the fountains will be. They are working very hard – not surprising as its only 13 days to go!

It was interesting to explain the 9/11 story to the children. It seems so recent to us but they weren’t yet born. It was moving to be in a place where it feels our history happened.

We then headed south to Battery Park, where the Staten Island Terminal is. The best value tourist thing in the city! Totally free, there and back! Great photo opportunities, beautiful sunshine, happy days!

We replayed the wished for fountains and then headed into Little Italy, China Town and through SoHo back to the bus for the hotel. A great day!

New York and being amidst Irene

We had begun to realise that we are having a bit of a meterological-phenomena trip (see post “August in New Zealand”) and when we flew from LA on Wednesday we knew a storm was coming, but never anticipated what we have now found ourselves in.

Irene is the largest storm to hit the eastern seaboard of the states since Gloria in 1995. Never before have they shut down the whole of the transport system (MTA) in NYC, but with the threat of storm surge, flood water and spring tides all converging at early morning sunday, the foot of Manhatten Island (an area called Battery Park on land, the water where the Statue of Liberty is), was under huge threat. If the estimates of 8-10ft of water coming on land were correct, the water would rush up Manhatten, and more worryingly, funnel strait down the subway system, with a entrance onto each of the main lines at Battery Park.

The worry about the hurricane force winds in a city of high rise buildings is the tunnel effect of the wind, whistling through corridors with buildings either side. Manhatten was under a “mandatory evacuation” order by the mayor and the mass escape began on Friday afternoon.

This happened to be the time when we went into the city for our first look around and orientafion. We were all pretty knackered from the time changes and travel, but we thought it worth doing a quick look.

From our hotel in New Jersey (the land to the west of Manhatten) it is half an hour on the bus to Times Square. The bus starts from outside the hotel so we got a seat easily (think living at the end of the Victoria Line!!) We had heard of a free bus down to Battery Park and the free Saten Island ferry, so were looking for a free afternoon with maximum views!

We got side tracked on the way (sculptures in Battery City Park, Finn hovering long enough around a guy playing golf that he got an impromptu lesson!, a thrift shop, and a sad phone call from home) but we eventually made it! It is SO hard being in a new city, without any understanding of how the subways work, how the signs work (or not), and coping with the heat and humidity. It has certainly given us more compassion for some of the tourists you see in London, spinning round, looking for clues, grasping their A-Z and their tube map.

By the time we got to Battery Park, we were ready for an ice cream and a sit down, so we sat near the play fountains (twins forbidden from going in….cue sulky kids…) and started to realise that the exodus was really beginning. We left the ferry for another day and started to head back. We got some food supplies from the supermarket ( think Sainsburys on Christmas Eve – empty shelves, queues to the back of the store) and got on the bus out of the city.

So the lock-down for Irene began! On Saturday morning the hotel was running shuttles to Walmart for food supplies and the transport system began to shut down. All the media was covering the situation to the max….. we counted 13 channels dedicated to 24/7 coverage. They certainly have a good number of very glamerous meterologists who they love to send out to windy beaches in waterproofs trying to speak into microphones through the wind and rain!

Locally all we experienced was some rain in the afternoon, followed by a serious amount of rain and wind starting at about 9pm. We recieved a tweet saying “its now raining properly, like Manchester-rain” and it really was. The wind whistled all night long but we awoke this morning to the news that the eye of the storm had hit but had been downgraded to a tropical storm and had not brought the devastation expected. Would it be unfair to observe that the people on the Weather Channel seem a little disappointed??

Outside, the road is flooded and a power line is wonky but not much else. We are not sure if we have to wait for the other side of the storm to hit us (if its a circle) or if the worst is over. We are relieved to still have power and hopefully we can have a normal-ish day. We will have to wait and see if we can get to NYC tomorrow or not.

Wednesday all over again

Having left Auckland on Wednesday we arrived 6 hrs before we left despite the long 12 hr flight. We are time travellers! Body clock a bit confused but not too tired for a morning swim in the LA hotel pool. Warm sunshine So different from the waist deep snow of last wednesday! How strange is this trip!!

After an enforced 3hr snooze, we got on the bus and headed for Santa Monica – with only a day in LA we all vote for beach rather than city! It is a beautiful place with a large expanse of sand, rolling surf, restaurants and and a pier. We enjoyed it all!

Check out the second car back!!

Today, Thursday, was more travelling, with an early start to get to the airport followed by a long wait for a delayed flight followed by another 5hrs in a plane followed by 3 trains and a taxi (with all that luggage..!) to get to New Jersey. But we are here! In New York! The last moments of the flight were stunning coming in over Manhatten but no camera sadly.

On the train we kept glimpsing the Empire State Building but only a glimpse! It was teasing us! But we arrive at the hotel and we have a glorious view (in the dark its all lit up!) of the tops of the Manhatten skyline including the new “Tower one” built on the old WTC site.

It is currently 1.30am New York time and me and Simon are up, wide awake! The children were sleepy enough to sleep thankfully, we will try soon! All the talk is of Hurricane Irene, due to hit NYC on sunday. Given our track record for wierd weather, I don’t hold much hope for the New Yorkers…..

Raglan Beach and leaving NZ

On our last day out together with Helen and Gerard we went to the closest beach to them, Raglan, on the west coast. A fabulous last day out with fish and chips on the shore, twin surf-jumping, beach combing and a sunset. Raglan is a black sand beach – due to iron deposits and volcanoes apparently….

The last proper day was of course the packing…… we should be good at it now but it continues to be a stress! Kindly, H&G gave us a break and took the kids off to the climbing wall centre. They had a brilliant (and exausting!) time and the packing got done!

We loaded up Helens brothers ute on Wednesday morning and drove to the airport. Farewell to the wonderful New Zealand. We had all fallen in love with the Land of the Long White Cloud and were planning when we could return!

The flight to LA was long and uncomfortable, not much sleep by anyone – nothing for Finn until we literally touched down in LAX and he conked out! We got through to the hotel in time for breakfast and a swim! Brilliant! We are time travellers, we can have Wednesday all over again! How wierd is that??

Cloudy Bay and the journey home

Our final night on south island was spent in Blenheim, just south of Picton, where we were to take the Interislander ferry from. Imagine our delight when the campsite was on the same road as the vineyard of one of favourite wines!!!

This region is Marlborough, the largest wine region of NZ, where apparently, its Sav blanc grape has single handedly put NZ on the wine producing world map. We drove down the main road, passing vineyard after vineyard after vineyard. An incredible number of different producers, all offering different cellar-door inducements to come in. Again, the background skyline of the snow covered mountains was pretty good, to say the least!!

Cloudy Bay is one of the longest established wineries, 25 years old, and we were greeted and served by a wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable woman. We learnt about the different harvesting methods and about the different storage and maturing, and a little about matching the right wine with the right food. All this whilst tasting 10 different wines….! Beautiful!

We drove on to Picton, more than just a ferry port, but unfortunately not enough time for us to explore. The kids had a play and then we boarded the ferry, an hour before departure, luckily giving us enough time to get the front row seats looking out the front of the ship!

The journey was delicious! (I said I would run out of suitable superlatives). Bluer than blue sea with the tree covered peaks descending down into it, tiny little former whaling stations huddled in the crook of the bays, turning corner after corner through a route out to the ocean. When we arrived at the gap between the north and south island, the Cook Straight, the sea turned rougher and the boat began to lurch between peaks and troughs. Looking south we could see the moutains of Kairkoura where we had been the day before and watched as about 50 or more albatros flew singly in front of the boat, playing chicken with the bow, swooping in and out of the wash. Their scale only becomes apparent when an ordinary seagull joined them in their flight! Their wingspan is about 3metres. Amazing.

And finally, if there was any confusion about the beard… is still being nurtured. It was a brilliant addition to the polar expedition we have just had but look now, for you might never see it again……


Kaikoura wasnt just about seals.
It is the place where the mountains meet the sea; the snow covered peaks literally sheering down into the blueness of the ocean.
For us to see this In the snow was another incredible priviledge of this trip.

After Kaikoura we continued up country to be as close as possible to the ferry at Picton. How fortunate to find ourselves in a campsite in the middle of the Marlborough wine district…….

This last day on the south island has started very well with tasting at Cloudy Bay vineyard and then onto a later than scheduled ferry out through the beauteous fjords of the north North Island. We have been watching Albatros flying across the front of the boat and basking in sunshine. More of that on another post! We arrive later in Wellingon and then catch a plane back to Auckland to be greeted by Bowden taxi service and returned to Rukuhia.

We are sad to be counting down the hours til we leave this wonderful country but are beginning to hear ourselves say “I can’t wait to see…..” or “I am looking forward to my bed….” etc.

Location:Stewart Duff Dr,Rongotai,New Zealand

Seals of Kaikoura by Ella

Yesterday we went to see the seals in kaikoura. we thoght you would see
four or five pop their heads up but we got close up. They were on rocks,
the side of roads and boardwalks.

We had lunch in the moterhome,then went up cllif because some were up there.
They were so,so,so close,fluffy and cute.

One was even sitting on the bench.

After we went onto the rocks to see the waves crashing in (it was a bit slippy)

Fun in Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is a beautiful colour. Not just “really blue” like you might hear a great lake described. It is aqua, ethereal, creamy blue. Hard to describe, wonderful to observe. Our campsite was on the shoreline and we looked down through trees to see where the white of the snow meets the creamy blue of the water. Beyond the water on the far shore is yet another snow covered mountain. Mmmmm, not too shabby, as the Bowden household would say.

On the shore road, just beyond the campsite is a marvellouse playground. A combo package of delights – a snow tube run, a skating rink and a hot pool.
We opted for the snow and swim deal and set up the sushi conveyor belt with own, very strong, inner tube with handles, to await being pushed off by the man at the top of the hill. What a magnificently fun time we had! It was laughing all the way, with double and triple runs, dizzying variations in spn, front facing and bottom sitting, all accompanied by intense technical explaations from Finn! Ella, meanwhile, like her mum, just wiggled her feeat and squealed for joy all the way. At the end both twins discivering the favourite refreain when they were 3 yr olds, ‘again, again, again, again!!’ Loved it! I spoke to a woman on the viewing platform and she had overheard Finn yelling as he careered down the hill “this is the best fun ever!!!!!”

We then went and relaxed in the hot pools. After the initial confusion of being in a swimming pool as hot as a bath, in the outside, with snow on the ground and mountains for a view, we really had a great time! What a treat!

After a quick lunch we called in at the Church Of the good Shepherd, a tiny little chapel on the shore of the Lake which has a glass window behind the altar with the view of the mountains. Wow!

Next door to the church (remember, of the Good Shepherd….) is a monument to the collie dog, remembering that without these animals the sheep farming in these mountains would be impossible! Brilliant! And even more brilliant, tonight we read the parable of the good shepherd (we have been reading a page a day of Desmond Tutu’s childrens bible as we travelled). All unplanned, by us at least! You could not write a better script!

Tekapo was just what we needed for the next long drive, as far north as we could manage, aiming to get past Christchurch by stopping time! Of course just a bit of time to see more mountains and a little glimpse of Mount Cook, our main loss in the re scheduled driving plan.