Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Koromakawa - Should we share this paradise?

Doug and I have debated whether to share our find, or keep the Koromakawa Resort as our own secret paradise. Koromakawa was absolutely the perfect vacation spot. As soon as we arrived, I was scheming to extend our vacation. Before I could organize and prolong our stay, the newlyweds that stayed at the resort prior to our arrival booked a return for the day of our departure. We decided it was bad karma to try to compete against newlyweds who traveled 30 hours from Sweden to Fiji. In the end, we also decided Karin and Spence are the most gracious hosts and deserve all the praise and support we can offer.

If you're looking for bright lights, shopping, or a nightlife beyond stargazing, Koromakawa is not the spot for you. If you are looking for warm smiles, horseshoes on the beach, naps swaying in hammocks between palms, sandcastles and peace, Koromakawa is heaven on earth. Not only is the stay luxurious, it is also eco-friendly with wind and solar generated power. However, unless Spence gives you a tour of his system, you would never guess that you are living completely off the power grid.

We stepped off the plane in Kadavu, as Spence, our host, and Johnny grabbed our bags off the tarmac, and we walked out of the airport across the road, waded into the water and onto Spence's boat. As Johnny sped out of the bay towards Ono, Spence reached into his cooler and brought out a fresh fruit platter and cold drinks. Yum!

The boat ride to Ono was about an hour and a half. We didn't see any other boats, but caught glimpses of villages nestled in the dense tropical greenery along the coast. Our first glimpse of Koromakawa was just a thatched roof peeking through the trees, just feet from the waters edge. Karin and the entire resort crew were on the beach singing a welcome song for our arrival. The Fijians' singing and dancing were highlights of our stay.

The boys waded to shore, said their hellos and took a few quick sips from their coconuts then immediately started their first sandcastle, only stopping for an occasional swim until I made them rinse off for dinner.

Right before dinner, we joined Karin and Spence and their Fijian staff for a kava welcoming ceremony with more singing and dancing and then a delicious dinner of fish that we chose from the fisherman on the beach that afternoon. Kava tastes to me like muddy, earthy tea. We were warned that it was a strong, maybe bitter taste, but I actually liked it and Colin seemed to develop a taste for it! Right after drinking a bowl, my tongue tingled like when the dentist numbs your mouth and then the novocaine starts to wear off. We were taught the custom is to clap once, raise our bowl and say "bula" to the group before drinking, drain our bowl, and then clap three more times. The bowl is then refilled and passed to the next person. We laughed and clapped along with the Fijian's songs. Kava is a mild narcotic and Karin predicted we would all sleep well, which we did.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Winter in Queenstown was long, much longer than a Denver winter, or at least it felt longer. The days were actually warmer than in the Rockies, with less days at freezing temperatures. People in Queenstown like to gloat that you can ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. In fact, there were even days that it was warm enough to go horseback riding. Our house, however, was cold, not quite freezing but it felt like it. It is reminiscent of a barn with whitewashed mud brick walls, big wooden beams, a peaked roof and wind whistling through cracks and crevices. The breeze inside the house on windy nights is strong and consistent enough to blow out candles on the kitchen table.

Kiwis keep their homes, restaurants and shops much colder than Americans. So we tried to go local and bundle against the frost. In our house, we have underfloor heating in most rooms with an additional wood burner in the kitchen and fireplace in the family room. Doug's office, however, is far from the fire and doesn't have the underfloor heating. By June Doug could see his breath most mornings as he logged onto his computer. We went out to purchase a heater for his office. Doug was explaining to the salesperson that he had an office that was about 14 degrees in the morning (which would be about 57 degrees Fahrenheit). The saleswoman replied, "Oh, that's not too cold. You really don't need a heater." Doug and I burst out laughing. We were trying to purchase a heater and the saleswoman was trying to talk us out of it. She was making us feel like wimps and lost the sale. We walked out of the store and we went next door where we bought an electric heater.

Once we received the first electric bill, we decided to turn off the underfloor heating. Doug was shocked at the cost and I felt guilty about the power usage. Liam and Colin seemed unaffected by the temperature. I started a layering campaign and bought a wardrobe of silk and polypro long undies. Doug and I wore knit hats round the clock. I've come to the conclusion hats really do keep you warm! We decided to use this winter to study the heating and insulation shortcomings of our new home. We are currently in a winterizing the house campaign adding insulation, weather stripping, stuffing gaps and retrofitting doors and windows.

To adjust to the conditions, we also reorganized our house. I moved my office up to the toasty loft, next to the wood stove pipe. We used the loft as our hang out spot. If we had guests over, we circled the kitchen chairs around the wood stove in the evenings. It felt very pioneer chic. Doug gained lots of chopping experience and the boys hauled wood every day after school. First one up in the morning lit the wood stove.

When we arrived a year ago the whole town seemed giddy with their enthusiasm for spring, more enthusiastic than I remembered spring fever in Colorado. It reminded me of the ecstatic spring thaws in Maine, where it really freezes solid. Maine is colder than Queenstown, but Queenstown suffers dramatically from the lack of sun. The days are short. The sun was barely peaking over the mountains on the far side of the lake at 10 am. The town is in the shadow of the mountains except for midday. The playground in the primary school gets barely a couple hours of direct sun a day in the winter. Our house had direct sunlight from mid morning to mid afternoon. My new friend in Bob's Cove, the next bay over from our house, was explaining to me that each fall her husband gets depressed with the coming of winter because they almost completely lose the sun for the entire winter. Last fall I thought she was exaggerating. Now I get it. Luckily we were up on the sunny ski fields much of the winter.

When spring break arrived and Doug looked just about to start up work again, I suggested to Doug that a break to the warmth, ocean and water was just what we all needed. Amazingly Doug agreed. He even admitted for the first time winter was a little too long for him too! At the last minute we booked fights to Fiji, which is just three hours from NZ.

We barely had time to plan a trip and knew nothing about Fiji. Usually I like to plan (or not plan) my own adventures but this time we contacted Destination World listed in Conde Nast as Fiji/South Pacific specialists. I told them our dates and that we wanted quiet sandy beaches and snorkeling. We really didn't care about anything else. They planned a fabulous itinerary for us.

Because we took so many pictures on our ten day vacation, I have grouped them to limit the number of photos in each slideshow. This first slideshow includes pictures from our first night in Nadi and then a three night cruise with Blue Lagoon Cruises through the Yasawa Islands.

We had to spend our first night in Nadi because flights from NZ arrive too late to catch the cruise on the same day. Nadi is not somewhere I would choose for a vacation. We stayed at First Landing, which was quiet. They even put us in a villa with a private pool. Dinner at First Landing was served at tables on the beach and the boys started building sand castles in the dark waiting for their food.

While both Doug and I have always lifted our noses at the idea of a cruise, we actually really enjoyed this one. We spent the days swimming and playing on incredible beaches and the group was small, especially since the boat was only half full. The crew was great, especially with Colin and Liam, the only two kids on board. The cruise director said they had about 15 kids the week before our trip and another group of children the week following our trip but that our week was a quiet one except for my two boys. The cruise usually has more children during the Australian and New Zealand school holidays and is quieter at other times. We were the only Americans on the cruise. We cruised with Australians, French, Swiss, Brits, Canadians, Kiwis and Fijians. Our last night was the international competition. We were unsure whether we should compete with the Kiwis or as Americans. In the end we competed as Americans and sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Doug introduced us explaining that October in the US is the season of presidential elections and, more importantly but much less entertaining, the Baseball World Series. We didn't bring down the house, but luckily we let Colin and Liam carry the show and we had the "cute" kid factor to get us through the performance. The Fijians put the rest of the nationalities to shame with their dances and songs under the stars on the beach. One Indo-Fijian woman performed a beautiful solo song and dance to end the evening.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Our One Year Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of our arrival in New Zealand. The task of describing all my thoughts after a year in our new home is too daunting to tackle in one blog entry.

Some quick thoughts we've shared at the dinner table the last few days:

1. All four of us have worked hard in different ways to root ourselves into our new community and to make new connections.
Doug - playing and coaching sports and his local investment group that he meets with monthly.
Carolyn - volunteering at school with sausage sizzles, Shelterbox, skiing, Tournament of the Minds and in the boys' classrooms, also with the NZ United World College Trust based in Queenstown.
Liam - sports, school extracurricular activities like Chess, Tournament of the Minds and the Family Arts and Variety Show.
Colin - school, Chess and joining the Queenstown Alpine Ski Team.

Being in school five days a week and in sports lots of afternoon, the boys are our cultural consultants/ambassadors. Liam helps with vocabulary and grammar. Learned is spelled learnt. Hair along your forehead is a fringe, not bangs. Colin is our pronunciation guru, especially with Maori words. In fact, he has discerned two acceptable pronunciations of Maori: Mar-ree or Mao-di. He was once again instructing Liam and me on the way home from school on Friday.

2. Sometimes this move feels like a reality show idea or social experiment - a family of four picks up and moves to a location where they don't have a single friend, acquaintance or connection...watch while they try to settle into a their new life.

3. Each of us decided that even if we were able to roll back the clock and decide whether to do this move, knowing what we know now, we would still choose to move to NZ, and particularly Queenstown.

4. Though there are few new lessons/challenges:
Doug - Working from home - setting up a space/time that is quiet and uninterrupted by the rest of the household. Missing the interaction/stimulus of his colleagues.
Carolyn- Having Doug home ALL day ;-) Building a new social network. Discovering that I am no longer a teenager, unafraid to jump on any horse.
Colin - Colin has learnt (several times) that in a less supervised world, kids tend to work things out their own way. For example, if you throw a snowball into a bigger kid's face, he will pound you into the snow with more force than you threw your snow ball. Experiential learning/natural consequences in their most basic form.
Liam-Being a minority/outsider for the first time and feeling different and singled out from the others. Liam has learnt that people from other places sometimes base first impressions on stereotypes. Liam has experienced that Kiwi classmates think Americans eat tomato sauce (ketchup) on everything, talk with squeaky American voices, and all love George Bush.

5. What Colin, Doug, Liam and I miss most are our family and friends.

Colin and Liam also miss the Logan School. Liam says he would never complain about anything at Logan if he was there again. He would keep small challenges in perspective when he compares them with some of the bigger challenges he's experienced in his new school. Both boys know Logan is a remarkable place and draw on their Logan foundation every single day. I too miss Logan - my colleagues and students and the most remarkable learning environment I have ever encountered.

Doug missed work (crazy, huh?). I am not sure how or why in these tumultuous economic times. (He just started back doing what he did in Denver but doing it from here and happy to be involved again).

8. We have been welcomed and included by so many new friends - dinner parties, road trips, ski trips, bonfires on the beach, hikes, walks, movie nights, birthday parties, book clubs, investment clubs, sports teams.

9. Sometimes all the new experiences, connections and friends is a little overwhelming. Even just remembering where and when we've met everyone is a challenge, as everyone is a new acquaintance.

10. All of us have more new projects going than we can manage.
Doug - figuring out NZ/US tax laws, life on a sheep station
Carolyn - horses again, gardening, NZ UWC, school volunteering, raising chickens with boys, composting/worms, helping out on the station (like halter training Alpaca), studying Pilates again
Colin & Liam - Happy Hens business and newsletter, raising a little lamb (which means more afterschool chores)

That is why blogging has fallen off for me. I have had trouble focusing as I have so many new things going that I can't seem to fit it all in day. I have decided that maybe I don't have to do everything all at once and in the first year, which is probably a reasonable idea considering the first year ended yesterday.

11. Despite Doug's raised eyebrows, we've added more than one animal a month:

-already had one dog that immigrated from U.S.
-Santa brought a kitten
-Carolyn got a horse
-Colin and Liam adopted 12 hens and a rooster
-yesterday the farm manager delivered an orphaned lamb born early in the day (more details coming from Liam with pictures). The lamb spent last night in the kitchen in a dog crate with the cat looking in from the top and the dog looking in the side.

12. This year plus period (13 plus months) is the longest stretch of time all of us have been out of the US. (Doug may have been out for this long as a child in Iran but he can't remember. Grams, do you remember?)

13. Until we went to Fiji this month, none of us had been on an airplane since arrival in NZ (11+ months). We've seen a regular stoplights twice, in Christchurch in February and in Auckland (on the way home from Fiji) this month. There has been so much to explore at home and locally that we haven't even felt the urge to leave the Wakatipu Basin.

Tonight we head out to the Queenstown Jazz Festival with new friends, Cath and John, to celebrate John's birthday and our anniversary. Their daughter Hebe is Liam's classmate and friend. Hebe's going to spend the night at our house and help take care of the lamb.

Happy First Anniversary Eleanor and Brett

Several nights ago Doug and I were just drifting off to sleep when Doug quietly mentioned that it was Eleanor and Brett's wedding anniversary. Long time readers may remember our unplanned participation in Eleanor's wedding on the Greek isle of Lindos. Their actual anniversary date was October 12, I believe. Amazing to think that a whole year has whirled passed since their wedding and our travels through Europe.

A year later, snuggling under our down comforter on a chilly, early spring night here in New Zealand, we could clearly conjure up the feeling of that magical, late fall wedding night, where we sat in our courtyard, with its pebble floor still warm from the sun-baked day, overlooking the bay twinkling with sailboat lights, sipping wine and listening to a string of wedding toasts to Eleanor. We also toasted Eleanor and her groom and then we danced to their music that spilled over our villa wall. In fact as we climbed down the stairs to our outside bathroom, we could peek over the wall onto the bar's veranda and see their guests partying away. The music and celebration continued all night as we tried to sleep. We even had the opportunity to meet some of the wedding revelers just before sunrise as we stumbled along the cobbled lanes to the main square to catch our taxi to the airport.

We feel Eleanor and Brett are kindred spirits because we know last October was the beginning of an adventure full of new experiences and challenges for them as it was for our family. We hope that Eleanor and Brett had a year of laughter and wonder. In honor of our unusual connection, we invite Eleanor and Brett to spend their fifth anniversary here in New Zealand. We offer our guest house to our favorite bride and groom. Of course, you're welcome before your fifth too!