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Acquiescence

Fetoko YogaTonga time is a really interesting thing. (I even wrote about it the last time we were here, three years ago.) I don’t know if it’s the way the dateline snakes around this part of the ocean or that it’s so hot and muggy this time of year or that the people of Tonga truly epitomize what “island time” means. Whatever it is, time seems to stop here. And yet it seems like the march of days will never end. Weeks streeeeeeeetch out and it feels like our buckets are overflowing with empty hours.

Two months on a tiny tropical island is a really, really, really long time. It’s sort of like being at sea, except we’re already there. We watch the sky and the sea change, just like on our boat. We do have a small skiff and explore neighboring islands and run into town for food once a week. Our friends aboard Del Viento came by and there were bonfires and slumber parties and giggling girls running all over the place. We swing in the hammocks, squirt each other with the water pistols Santa brought. Books and books have been read. A novel draft completed. Games played. Bread baked. Stuff fixed. Movies watched. Meals cooked with mystery meat and cabbage (again). The cat is nearly bald from the amount of pets he’s been getting.

And thinking. Oh yes, I’ve been doing a whole lot of that. Trying to make sense of our lives, of the general upheaval of the past three years. I think about what didn’t work for us (a mortgage, Auckland, Common Core, shopping) and what is (living small, traveling light, cultivating real-life friendships, pursuing our interests, writing, minimalism). The problem with all this time to think is that I can imagine so many futures, so many lives worth living. But I’ve already lived a lot of them and some times I just want to go back: to our home in the woods, to our cozy little boat sailing on the sea, to the cute Seattle apartment I was living in when I met Michael at 23. But there comes a time when you have to accept that the only one you really have is this one.

2016 will be our year of acquiescence. True acceptance of who we are, what we need, what’s important to us. Right now. Some of this is practical (i.e. money to eat is up there on the list of immediate needs). Many more are intangible: more stability in friendships for the girls, more focus on my diabetes health (which travel is not so kind to). We want to live in a city again, where ideas and people collide in so many interesting ways. We’ll keep living small (the girls comment daily how they miss the coziness we had aboard Wing’n it). We want to plant some roots for a bit; this shy, introverted family needs time to cultivate deeper friendships. And we love New Zealand, despite all the challenges of living on a small island nation thousands of miles from our loved ones.

It is a lot like being at sea here, the more I think of it. Just like being on passage, I love all these hours with nothing else to do but simply be. Having spent weeks at a time at sea I know you can’t keep looking forward to the destination. You will drive yourself crazy with the desire for a cheeseburger, and a cold beer, and perfectly salted chips. No, you have to take each day, each hour, each minute at a time, focus on what’s directly in front of you before it slips by. I don’t know if we’ll ever get such a vast spread of empty days again so I don’t want to forget it, this time.

Santa brought water pistols for Christmas. Isn't he clever? (That's our lighted Christmas palm behind them.) They only each got one thing on their Santa wish lists (ebooks) but later said they got everything they wanted.

Santa brought water pistols for Christmas. Isn’t he clever? (That’s our lighted Christmas palm behind them.) They only each got one thing on their Santa wish lists (ebooks) but later said they got everything they wanted.

There's a bit of Christmas here, too. We miss the coziness of a northern hemisphere holiday, but not the crowds, shopping, traffic...I think it's just right here.

There’s a bit of Christmas in Tonga, too. We miss the coziness of a northern hemisphere holiday, but not the crowds, shopping, traffic…I think it’s just right here.

The Neiafu market. It's tomato salad for dinner. And pasta with tomato sauce.

The Neiafu market. It’s tomato salad for dinner. And pasta with tomato sauce.

They have no trouble keeping busy (as long as I ignore the "I'm bored" complaints)

They have no trouble keeping busy (as long as I ignore the “I’m bored” complaints)

Sand Cay

The Voyaging With Kids cover girls reunite aboard Del Viento, four years after the original was taken. They've grown a tad.

The Voyaging With Kids cover girls reunite aboard Del Viento, four years after the original was taken. They’ve grown a tad.

Exploring Swallow's Cave, courtesy of Del Viento (photo by Michael Robertson)

Exploring Swallow’s Cave, courtesy of Del Viento (photo by Michael Robertson)

The girls love taking care of the Fetoko animals. They know what to do as the temperatures have started soaring lately.

The girls love taking care of the Fetoko animals. They know what to do as the temperatures have started soaring lately.

Dad and daughter make bread. We don't have an oven aboard Wing'n it and are sure making up for lost baking time here.

Dad and daughter make bread. We don’t have an oven aboard Wing’n it and are sure making up for lost baking time here.

Wondertime Family, Tonga 2015

Wondertime Family, Tonga 2015 (photo by Michael Robertson)

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Tonga Interlude

Fetoko from the airMonths and months ago, before we even left Olympia for New Zealand, our friends Ben and Lisa contacted us and asked if we were interested in watching over their island resort in Tonga for three months while they traveled over the austral summer.

Um, does the sun set in the west?

While we traveled aboard Wing’n it in New Zealand we communicated back and forth and eventually our plans coalesced: we would fly to Tonga in mid-November and stay through early February. In the meantime, our friends would brave the cold and take over Wing’n it down in N.Z. to do some land-traveling of their own.

We met Ben & Lisa on Waking Dream waaaay back in 2002, when Michael and I were working our way down the California coast aboard our Alberg 35 Pelican. (Yeah, those were different days.) Along with a handful of other boat crews also in their late 20s, we went on to have an epic season exploring Mexico together. While we returned to Seattle afterwards, they spent another season in Mexico, then continued on to the South Pacific. When they got to Vava’u, Tonga they fell in love with the place and stopped. They’ve been here ever since living the entrepreneurial dream: opening up a restaurant, adventure tourism company, and now their latest project, beautiful Mandala Resort on tiny Fetoko Island.

But everybody needs a break, even in paradise, so they’ve been having caretakers watch over the island the past few years while they do some overseas travel in the off-season. There’s a lot to do here, like feed their two adorable dogs Bosun & Higgs and cat Benzini, sweep the floor, make sure the hammocks and kayaks are in working order. I think we’re up to the job.

Our first view of Fetoko in over three years. Wondertime anchored in front for weeks and weeks in 2012. It's a little weird to not have her here with us.

Our first view of Fetoko in over three years. Wondertime anchored in front for weeks and weeks in 2012. It’s a little weird to not have her here with us.

There's even wifi.

There’s even wifi.

Leah scored the treehouse fale. I don't think she's ever going to leave.

Leah scored the treehouse fale. I don’t know how we’re ever going to get her to leave.

Leah in her treehouse palace.

Leah in her treehouse palace.

The girls are over the moon to have their own rooms, for the first time in seven years. I estimate we could fit 4 Wing'n it's in each one.

The girls are over the moon to have their own rooms, for the first time in seven years. I estimate we could fit 4 Wing’n it’s in each one.

Here's the view from my bed. Pretty much the same view from every bed, since the island is barely 3 acres big. I truly forgot how blue the South Pacific ocean is.

Here’s the view from my bed. Pretty much the same view from every bed, since the island is barely 3 acres big. I truly forgot how gloriously blue the tropical South Pacific ocean is.

We can't keep Holly out of the water.

We can’t keep Holly out of the water.

One last dinner with Lisa before she's off to NZ.

One last dinner with Lisa before she’s off to NZ.

And I've saved the best photo for last: I delivered a copy of Voyaging With Kids to my coauthor, Michael Robertson. He and his family aboard Del Viento have been working their way across the South Pacific this year and he hadn't seen it yet so that was great fun. It's also great fun to spend time with one of our favorite families, who we hadn't seen since La Paz in 2012. As is typical, all four girls picked up right where they left off.

And I’ve saved the best photo for last: I delivered a copy of Voyaging With Kids to my coauthor, Michael Robertson. He and his family aboard Del Viento have been working their way across the South Pacific this year and he hadn’t seen the actual book yet so that was great fun. Of course, as our girls did, his grabbed the book from him and wouldn’t give it back for an hour. It’s also great fun to spend time with this awesome family, who we hadn’t seen since La Paz in 2012. As is typical in the cruising world, all four girls (and all four adults) picked up right where we left off. They’re here for the cyclone season so we have plenty of time to catch up.

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We Are Learning

Throwing stones - Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South IslandA well-meaning family member recently asked us the question that every single long-term travel family hears, and often: but what about school? Aren’t they going to get behind?

I must admit that I am a reluctant homeschool mum. When we moved back to Olympia last year and the big yellow school bus picked the girls up for their very first day of American public school, I went back into the house, turned up the stereo full blast and may have danced in joy for a couple hours (or at least that’s what it felt like). I had hours and hours to myself to read and write with Michael off to work and the girls off to school.

But then the homework was sent home in my all-day kindergartner’s backpack. And the tears from dealing with mean kids at school. Also, complaints about the computer reading tests foisted upon our 3rd grader and how so-and-so got a higher score than she did. Fall conference time arrived and we sat in front of our daughter’s kindergarten teacher and tried to pay attention as she went over pages of data on our 5-year-old’s current progress. On her 6th birthday I brought in class cupcakes and asked when I should come back for the party. “Oh, I don’t know when we’ll eat them,” her teacher told me. “I like to surprise the kids sometime during the day.” In other words, get lost.

A month later I took Holly out of school. We played. Read books. Counted stuff. Shopped together. Made art. She was a happy 6-year-old again.

I took Leah out a month after that. She was becoming increasingly distressed about school. She had made some very good friends, but was bored silly in class. Most of the kids didn’t listen to her teacher and they would have to stay inside and miss recess. Totally makes sense, right? Ever since she was little she’d pick her fingernails when she was anxious; hers were bloody and sore.

So even though my days since have been a little more hectic and it’s been a challenge to carve out time for myself to write, I know that we made the right choice. The past five months of traveling aboard Wing’n it has only reinforced that: not worrying about tests, evaluations, curriculum and pointless busy work has resulted in them being kids again. Happy, curious, thoughtful, patient, and pure sponges of knowledge.

Together, we are learning constantly. We read things, we count things, we draw things. We look up topics that interest us. We look at maps and decide where to go next. We talk about history, geology, wildlife, ecology, conservation, sociology, economics. We visit libraries and read for hours, picking books off shelves that strike our fancy. We’ve learned how to get along living in a teensy space. We talk about budgeting and how we must give up one thing to choose another. We’ve learned how it’s far better to have experiences rather than wasting money on climbing the “property ladder” or buying the latest plastic junk. We’ve learned how to set goals and then go for them.

I honestly don’t know if they are ahead or behind in school. But I do know they are leaps and bounds ahead in life and I think what we’re learning together will serve them well.

Puzzling World, Lake Wanaka

Puzzling World, Lake Wanaka

Queenstown/Cardrona Snow!

Queenstown/Cardrona late spring snow…first time in the white stuff in over 5 years!

Clifden Caves near Fjordland. (I totally chickened out when crawling became necessary. Luckily Michael is braver than I and he and the girls kept exploring underground.)

Clifden Caves near Fjordland. (I totally chickened out when crawling became necessary. Luckily Michael is braver than I and he and the girls kept exploring underground.)

McLean Falls, Catlins, South Island

McLean Falls, Catlins, South Island

Dunedin Telephone Booths

Dunedin Telephone Booths

World Famous Moeraki Boulders

World Famous Moeraki Boulders

Learning about earthquakes in crumbling Christchurch

Learning about earthquakes in crumbling Christchurch

Center of downtown Christchurch, 5 years later. The stones in the giant cairn are each written upon with a wish for the city's rebuild.

Center of downtown Christchurch, 5 years later. The stones in the giant cairn are each written upon with a wish for the city’s rebuild.

NZ fur seal pups frolicking in a waterfall. It's a 10 minute walk from the ocean; the mothers leave them here in a sort of seal pup daycare. Cute overload. (Kaikoura)

NZ fur seal pups frolicking in a waterfall. It’s a 10 minute walk from the ocean; the mothers leave them here in a sort of seal pup daycare. Cute overload. (Kaikoura)

Beer tasting in Marlborough Wine Country

Beer tasting in Marlborough Wine Country

Happy to be back in Welly

Happy to be back in Welly

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Our Shoes Are Made For Walking

Ship Creek walking

Up until now, nearly midway through spring in early October, it’s felt like we’ve had New Zealand to ourselves. Up on the North island, we might go days without seeing another campervan or motorhome. But now we’ve been working our way south down the west coast of the South Island and are nearly to Queenstown. We’ve found ‘em.

But the whole island hasn’t been this way. After getting Wing’n It WOF’ed in Nelson (which included having her rear brakes rebuilt, some minor electrical issues fixed, and a new clutch cylinder put on—causing a night’s stay at a hotel while she was in the shop which nobody complained about one bit) we headed out to Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay. On our way back through, we stopped at a tiny coffee/wool shop atop Takaka pass and chatted with the barista. “We see a lot of locals out here, but not many tourists. It’s just too far off the beaten track. They don’t have the time.”

Pelorus River walk

After, we made our way to Nelson Lakes (which are stunning, but still frosty at night so our stop was quick at NZ$45/night for a powered campsite where we could plug in our space heater). Then back out to the coast again to make our way down the wild west coast. In sleepy Westport we felt like we’d driven through a portal to the Oregon Coast: slight gray overcast, wide sandy driftwood-covered beach, a breakwater to cut the swell for incoming boats, blooming yellow gorse (a relative to scotch broom and just as invasive).

A couple of days later we found ourselves down the road in Greymouth. What used to be, like most of the towns on this coast, a rip-roaring gold rush town has been turned into a tourist trap. Not only is Greymouth the terminus of the Tranz-Alpine train which crosses the island from Christchurch, it’s also where rental motorhomes make the right turn to cross the island via Arthur’s Pass back to the barn in Christchurch.

Wharariki Beach dune walk

In working our way down the coast from Greymouth, we found ourselves in a whole other country. The locals down here call the South Island the mainland and we’re still trying to figure out what they mean by that exactly. But considering that tourism provides 7% of New Zealand’s GDP I think we understand quite what they mean.

Life in rural New Zealand is pretty slow. We’ve passed quad-bikes on the road driven by sheep farmers, a couple herding dogs riding on the back, all of them smiling in the breeze. Sheep look up at us lazily, sometimes, as we drive past. The prancing newborn lambs seem to be the quickest thing around. Shop keepers always have time to chat. When they learn that we actually live here they are quick to divulge local secrets: from the best (cheapest) shops to buy groceries in to hidden trails perfect for kids to good free places to camp.

Takaka Labrynth Rocks walk

Yesterday we stopped at a small roadside stand that was selling whitebait patties. (It’s the season to catch these tiny juvenile fish at river mouths. They are about 2” long with clear bodies. Each delicious mouthful consists of at least 5 of these fish, which taste like sweet cream fishy butter. I wish I could show you a photo, but I left the camera in the camper). The couple who’d stopped along with us, took some photos, gulped down their patty, then jumped in their rental car and drove away. We stood around chatting with the stand owner while she finished frying ours up. “Tourist season must be starting up?” I asked her. “Do people fly in to Queenstown and start there?”

“It’s getting busy, for sure,” she replied. “Most people fly into Christchurch, then do a loop through Queenstown, up the coast then back across the pass to Christchurch. We call them ‘loopies’.”

We all laughed at that, then I mentioned that we were off to Haast to hopefully find some groceries for dinner. She grabbed her local map and gave me directions to the shop that didn’t raise their prices in tourist season.

While we chat, the tourists zip by outside. They’ll stop to take a quick photo to Instagram, then they fly away again on to tick the next box on Lonely Planet’s Must-Do List. Trails longer than 30 minutes are virtually empty. People here for two or three or four weeks just don’t have the time for anything longer it seems.

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes walk

But look, maybe we’re just jealous. While we’re currently rich on time, we’re poor on cash (it’s either one or the other, right?). At the Franz Josef Glacier visitor’s centre we held a brochure in our hands for helicopter rides over Franz and nearby Fox Glaciers. The girls were pleading please please please. Franz Glacier has receded so much that the only way to really view it is to land on it via air (earlier that day we’d walked the hour to the viewing point but were still a kilometer or two away from the face). All of us really wanted to get on that glacier.

But in the end, we just couldn’t do it. NZ$600 for a 20-minute ride (20-minutes!) was just too dear. Our denied helicopter trip joined Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (NZ$85/family), kayaking in Abel Tasman (NZ$200/pp/day), Shanty Town (NZ$75/family), and beer tasting at Tui Brewery (NZ$20/tasting). I’m going to bet we skip skydiving in Queenstown and heli-skiing on the Tasman Glacier, too.

Cape Foulwind walk

But what we can afford to do, we do a lot of and that is walking. We only need to drive an hour or two each day until we find another interesting spot to explore on foot. We’ve hiked to waterfalls via the Pelorus River; along the Abel Tasman coastal track; along the dunes to Wharariki Beach; licked anal tube excretions of insects living in trees on Lake Rotiti in Nelson Lakes (tastes like honey, I swear); through ghost towns and a 140-year-old cemetery in Lyell, Buller Gorge; atop cliffs misty with crashing waves at Cape Foulwind; read historical signs along the Hokitika river; walking along the river in Nelson we heard a Tui’s call in a tree overhead and stopped to listen to his enchanting guttural chatter. Yesterday we pulled into a small park along the west coast, meandered through native Kahikatea  (white pine) swamp and learned most of these huge trees had been shipped offshore in the form of crates for butter and cheese that the cows make that live on former forest land.

Franz Josef Glacier walk

But listen, you don’t have travel slowly to experience slow travel as we are, trail by trail. There’s an intimacy in getting to know a place step by step and we’ve always relished walking wherever we’ve traveled, even if we’re only there for a week or two. And there’s a lot of walking in New Zealand; the entire country is connected by trails (someday maybe we’ll even attempt some of the Great Walks). But the hour or two we spend on each trail with our young crew is enough for now. Each path is uniquely it’s own in history, nature, and beauty. All the things that make this country so lovely, what’s it all about.

Ship Creek swamp walk

Abel Tasman tidepool

Abel Tasman view

Abel Tasman drive

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes

Nelson beach walk

Lake Wanaka

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World Class Wellington

Wing'n It family in Welly

For the past three weeks aboard Wing’n It, we’ve been meandering our way southward, trying to move fast enough to see all there is to see, but slow enough so we don’t catch up with the frost that’s still popping up now and then south of us. We really enjoyed our visit to Napier on Hawke’s Bay (freedom camping right on the beach in town, walking distance to the library, swimming pool, grocery stores, laundromat, shopping). We’d planned the perfect field trip: taking the girls to a winery that had an education center but sadly found this one, and most, wineries closed for the rest of winter. After that, we were all kind of anxious to get to the big city and zipped through the Wairarapa region (more farms and closed wineries) to get southward, frost be damned.

Freedom camping is welcomed in Napier. Many places it's not...better get down here before freedom camping is a thing of the past!

Freedom camping is welcomed in Napier. Many places it’s not…better get down here before freedom camping is a thing of the past!

Watching the daily shark feeding at National Aquarium of New Zealand (Napier)

Watching the daily shark feeding at National Aquarium of New Zealand (Napier)

You can't tell from this photo, but this random place in the seeming middle of nowhere was heaven. There are free hot unlimited showers in the building on the right and the shed next to it has couches, a TV and a VCR(!) with piles of VHS tapes. So retro.

You can’t tell from this photo, but this random place in the seemingly middle of nowhere was heaven. There are free hot unlimited showers in the building on the right and the shed next to it has couches, a TV and a VCR(!) with piles of VHS tapes. So retro.

We did stop at the Tui Brewery for a wee tour

Pit stop at the Tui Brewery for a wee tour

But first, we had to stop at Rivendell:

We only saw two elves at Rivendell. (Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington)

We only saw two elves at Rivendell. (Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington)

Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington

We’ve been to Wellington before (Anzac weekend, April 2013 to be exact). But this trip was a little bit different. Our last time here was a whirlwind long weekend drive down the North Island with a stop at Lake Taupo and two nights in Windy Welly. (It wasn’t windy that weekend, but sunny, clear, and calm which we were told not to expect again). They were right.

Spring sprung upon us while we were in Wellington this time, with typical weather: sideways rain, howling wind, and enough sun breaks just to tease. But we didn’t care. We’d built Wellington up in our minds, as someplace we might like to stop and work for a while, make some friends, put the girls in school once we’re done with our Wing’n It wanderings. But we’ve done that before and sometimes the actual place fails to live up to our vision of it. But this time, Wellington did no such thing.

We spent a week in the city and loved every minute–even with the rain and wind (we figure this is why Welly has the best beer and coffee in the entire country). The city is spotless. We felt safe walking anywhere at any time of day which is definitely something I can’t say about any town in America these days. There are beautiful museums, libraries, parks, bookstores, night markets, art galleries—all free to explore.

First day of spring (Wellington)

First day of spring (Wellington)

Downtown Wellington: clean, safe, and beautiful

Downtown Wellington: clean, safe, and beautiful

Exploring our new nation's capital (Parliament buildings, Wellington)

Exploring our new nation’s capital (Parliament buildings, Wellington)

We toured Weta Cave and learned a few movie-making secrets.

We toured Weta Cave and learned a few movie-making secrets.

Wellington's AMAZING Sunday Market (and this is in late Winter!)

Wellington’s AMAZING Sunday Market (and this is in late Winter!)

New Zealand has the BEST swimming pools ever. (And we've enjoyed showering at each and every one.)

New Zealand has the BEST swimming pools ever. (And we’ve enjoyed showering at each and every one.)

Wellington's central library. We had to drag the girls out of here, literally.

Wellington’s central library. We had to drag the girls out of here, literally.

And just outside of the city, wild New Zealand remains:

A 10 minute drive to the other side of the city's peninsula finds you on wild Cook Strait with the little blue penguins and seals.

A 10 minute drive to the other side of the city’s peninsula finds you on wild Cook Strait with the little blue penguins and seals.

Yes, we can’t wait to return but first, we’ve got another island to see.

Crossing Cook Strait aboard the Bluebridge ferry to the South Island

Crossing Cook Strait aboard the Bluebridge ferry to the South Island

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#nofilter friday: beauty time

beauty time

Pelorus River, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand

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#nofilter friday: a field trip every day

every day is a field trip (Te Papa, Wellington)Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington

 

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#nofilter friday: sometimes you have to stop to let ’em run

Pahiatua, Tararua District, North Island, New Zealand

Pahiatua, Tararua District, North Island, New Zealand

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Journey to the Far East

East Cape Lighthouse

“This is what they are talking about, when they talk about New Zealand roads,” Michael shouts back to me over the whine of the Canter’s diesel engine. He’s in the driver’s seat, hands clenched on the steering wheel.

I’m sitting behind him, right hand gripped onto the metal bar behind his seat that doubles as the ladder to the girls’ bunk above. My feet are wedged against the settee opposite, to keep myself from sliding off my own seat. I’m being bounced and jolted around violently with the motorhome’s rough motion. It kind of feels like sailing.

We aren’t going fast, maybe 30 km/hour. But to me it feels like we’re about to hurtle off the cliff below any second, especially when I lean over and look out the front window, to see what Michael’s talking about. We’re traveling down a one-lane gravel road. To the left of us is the southern ocean, a narrow band of beach and rocks, a cliff, and a good part of the road missing, gone to join the sea below. Someone has put some rickety wooden guardrails around these AWOL bits of road, which was thoughtful.

At the start of the East Cape road, 20 km of rough travel out to the most eastern lighthouse in the world (at 178 degrees east), there is a sign which reads: “Extreme Caution/Reduce Speed”. They were not kidding when they had that one made up.

When the road widens again a short time later to a full single lane, we can breathe evenly again. Eventually it turns inland a bit, winding through acre after acre of green pastures chock full of sheep and cows, eating and shitting all over 100% pure New Zealand. Finally we reach The End of the road and park next to an old outhouse. When we look up up up we see the lighthouse, nestled atop a hill of native bush.

There is another motorhome there, an older couple from England we’d spoken to the day before. They’ve just gotten back from their climb up and back. “It doesn’t take long, 20 minutes or so. Only 750 steps up. Have fun!” they say cheerily and jauntily hop in their sleek and modern rented motorhome and start back down the road.

“I don’t WANT to go up there!” Upon hearing that our plans are the same, Leah stands with her feet apart, hands on her hips.

“We’re doing it,” I say. “We came all this way and we’re going up.” Not in the mood to negotiate, I hand the pack to Michael that’s got our passports, laptop, water, and snacks in it and sling the camera around my own neck and start walking.

“Come on Leah, let’s gooooooo!” Holly calls out, running up ahead.

Leah sighs and starts stomping. We find the trail head and begin making our way up the hill. It’s not long before the girls, followed by Michael, are out of sight up ahead of me.

Step after wooden step winds up through the nikau palms and silver tree ferns. “150” is carved into one; here I start to wonder if this was such a good idea myself. By “450” I’m cursing whoever had the stupid idea we should climb up to this lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. My feet and legs feel like they are plodding along in concrete. My thighs are starting to quiver. I can’t hear the birds anymore due to the blood pounding in my ears. It starts to rain. The damp, spicy smell of the earth is almost overpowering. Up and up and up. I slow down but I don’t stop. I realize how much I am enjoying this.

Step. Step. Step. The rough wooden treads twist and turn up the steep hillside. Suddenly a thought occurs to me: how much this is like life, plodding along even when you don’t want to. When stopping sounds like such a good idea. I think about all the steps I have taken, all the turns and decisions that have led me to this very day, right to this very staircase. A great many of them unpleasant, some exhilarating, a few regretful, but each vital to the path that has led me here.

Finally, I round one last bend in the staircase and the bright green hilltop opens up before me. The tidy white lighthouse towers in the middle of it. My girls come running towards me, smiles and eyes wide, eager to show me around.

I walk over to Michael and take his proffered hand. Together we turn and look around at the sapphire-blue sea below, tossing itself against towering cliffs and beyond, rolling green fields. Our little motorhome is down there, a tiny white dot at the end of the winding road. The girls run around us, around the lighthouse, in circles, in joy. It’s perfect moment, a miracle in fact.

East Cape Lighthouse, NZ

Going down (East Cape Lighthouse, NZ)

East Cape road, NZ

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#nofilter friday

Lake Tutira, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

Lake Tutira, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

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