Sunday, 2 December 2018

Being a bird mum

We found a baby bird!!!! (Well Aric did, I nearly trod on him).  Aric spotted the helpless but feisty little thing on the pavement outside some shops.  We looked around and there was a super tall tree above us - we had no chance of putting him back in the nest, and he was too young and featherless to survive on the floor.  We made a decision to take him home with us and then work out what to do from there.

Aric wrapped him up in his jacket and we walked home giddy with excitement - maybe we could raise him as our own and then The Dodo would do a viral video about us! (Literally my lifelong dream).

We put him down on the sofa and he starts chirping away for food - doing that thing they do when they crane their necks as long as they can with their mouths wide open.  We quickly made up some very runny weetabix for him (first thing that came to mind) and he was gobbling it down off my finger.  When he was full, he closed his eyes and went to sleep - so cute!!! We found him a box, put a warm bean bag in it and a bunch of towels and laid him into his little nest, where he promptly woke up, shat everywhere then started chirping for food again.  This was to be our life for the next 3 days.

We did some research on the internet and discovered that you can feed baby birds with softened dog biscuits and egg, so we bought a bag of biscuits and blended them up with water, a hard boiled egg and some random nutrient powder I have and fed him using a pipette.  Luckily for us, baby birds like their night time sleeps, so he was finished feeding by 930pm each night and sleeping, but ready for food at 6am every morning, for pretty much the rest of the day.

We stumbled across a dilemma when we realised we would either need to stay home or take him into work to look after him - luckily my work is pretty laid back plus I am kind of hidden in a corner on a floor where no senior people work, so I snuck him into work and sat him by the window - for the first day no one knew he was there apart from my 2 work friends who sit next to me.

The following day he garnered more interest as he was pretty chirpy and moving about a lot so I had lots of visitors to my desk, including some ecologists who were trying to determine what he was.  From the research I had done, I figured he was either  a Mynah, a Tui (our hope, but it's also illegal to keep them in captivity) or a Starling.  The ecologists thought he could be a Tui.

On Saturday, having looked after him for 2 days solid, I was pretty tired and ready to take him to the bird sanctuary, but Aric wanted to spend more time with him, so we agreed to take him in on Sunday - I was busy diving Saturday anyways and knew Aric would be ready to take him in after a day of looking after him, cute as he is!!!

I was correct, though it was still hard to give him up.  We had invested our time and our love into him and though he caused a little bit of chaos (literally there was poo EVERYWHERE and his food everywhere and we went through so many towels which are now stained with yellow poop) and the house seemed very empty when I came home on Sunday!  However it has made me think about being a baby mum and has put me off the idea for the future at's tiring to have something rely on you!!

Here's some pics we took of him before we handed him over to the bird sanctuary, he's covered in food (it's super hard to feed him without getting him covered in the stuff)

Friday, 16 November 2018

Learning to Scuba dive

Back in April my lovely friend Luise won a voucher for the PADI Open Water elearning in a raffle.  She happens to be a super duper pro diver already, so being the lovely soul she is, gifted me the voucher as she knew Aric was keen on me learning to Scuba. (I guess I was semi-keen too – I just don’t like expensive hobbies as I am a cheap skate – so never even considered learning before.  Plus, it scares me, and I am a baby, and I am really stupid when it comes to knowing how to control my body in situations, so I was worried about pressing wrong buttons and dying of exploding lungs).

Anyways after months of putting it off, I booked it and suddenly the course came round and it was time to learn.

I turned up at the Dive Centre a bag of nerves and slightly disappointed at the size of our group – I was expecting maybe 4 people per dive instructor, instead we were a group of 6 per instructor, 12 in total. They had also messed up the pool booking and hadn’t told us, so we were expecting to go to Newmarket pools (a very handy 15 min walk from my house) and instead had to work out a last minute car pool ride to a pool 30 min drive away.  Not the best start.

After completing some paperwork and being fitted for wetsuits, we loaded the bags and cylinders into the trailer and headed to the pools.  I was so so nervous but luckily there were a few others who felt the same way which made me feel better. 

The first day was HORRIBLE.  I hated nearly all of it.  The pool we were at isn’t the best suited for scuba training – they didn’t know we were coming so we had to wait around for them to sort out lanes for us, then there was a kids water polo match happening in the rest of the pool so there was lots of whistles and shouting and screaming – not the most relaxing of environments and made it very hard to hear what the instructor was trying to tell us.  Because of limited space on poolside I felt like the getting the gear ready aspect was rushed.  We put on our BCDs and weighbelts and got into the pool.  We were given a few breaths underwater with our head in to get used to it, then went down on our knees and practiced things like taking our reg out and putting it back in and purging it, clearing our masks, breathing from someone else’s reg.  I felt like everything was very quick and we weren’t given time to learn – rather time to look at what our instructor was doing and then copy.  I was getting stressed out as I felt like we weren’t actually learning to swim and breathe underwater – rather learning what to do if your air stops working – which admittedly is important, but I would rather learn how to do swimming and breathing and feel comfortable before moving onto the more serious stuff. My mouth kept getting dry from the air, and my jaw hurt from clamping down on the mouthpiece.  My least favourite task of the day was taking my mask off and putting it back on and clearing it.  Even though I knew I had to breathe through my nose to clear my mask, my body wouldn’t obey me and would breathe through my mouth and my mask would remain filled with water, then I would panic and shoot up to the surface coughing and spluttering.  Writing this back makes me laugh as now I can do it fine and it really doesn’t seem like a big deal, but at the time it literally was the worst thing ever and I hated it.

That night I went to a party and told everyone how much I hated scuba diving and how I didn’t want to go back the next day.  Sunday morning I even had a little cry to myself as I didn’t want to go back but didn’t want to quit and let Aric and Luise down.   So I composed myself and went back and Sunday was SO MUCH BETTER.  This time we started with snorkelling skills (why we didn’t begin with this on Saturday I don’t know!) which I was fine with and got me warmed up for breathing underwater.  Then we geared up and did a bunch of other skills that I was a bit nervous of but needn’t have been – one of them being breathing from a freeflowing regulator.  I thought this would be horrible and I would be choking (as you have to have the regulator half out of your mouth and ‘sip’ the air) but it was fine and you don’t inhale any water at all. Finally, we did my most dreaded skill – removing your mask, swimming for a short distance without it, putting your mask back on and clearing it.  I was worried I would crash into something (I wear contacts so can’t open my eyes under water) but it was fine – the instructor literally dragged me round whilst I closed my eyes tight and thought hard about only breathing through my mouth, then we came to a stop and I put my mask back on and cleared it first time. I was so happy!! This day we even finished before the other group, so we had 10 mins or so to swim around and practice our buoyancy, and he made us remove our masks again, so by this time I was feeling much more comfortable with it.  When I got home Sunday night I felt like a proud kid who’d got a good score at school – I was so happy.

The following weekend we did our open water dives which again I was super nervous of – mainly of the fact it would be a lot colder, we would have outdoor things to contend with such a sealife and currents, and visibility wouldn’t be anything like it would be in the pool. We were also going deeper so it meant I couldn’t shoot up to the top if I panicked as I could cause damage to myself – I would need to remain composed and calm!

Our first day was spent at Matheson’s Bay and was a shore dive, meaning you have to swim out in all your gear to the descent point.  I found the swim quite a struggle – when you wear all the scuba equipment (plus I was wearing 2 wetsuits and a hood for insulation reasons) you’re pretty restricted – it’s like swimming with an uncomfortable, bulky backpack whilst wearing compression tights. It wasn’t fun.  You also have to swim on your back so you can’t see where you’re going. When we went to descend, none of us were weighted properly, so the instructor had to swim back to shore to get some more weights so that we’d sink.  Sigh.  The other nervous girl in our group had a leaky gas cylinder, so that added to our woes. After several failed descents, we were finally weighted properly and headed downwards into the dark murky depths of the bay.  

It was fine! We barely saw any fish, but it was quite surreal being under the sea and sitting on the sandy floor and swimming along with the kelp.  We did a couple of the skills we learned in the pool before working on our buoyancy – I was lucky and managed to pick it up quite quickly but the nervous lady kept suddenly shooting to the surface before being dragged back down by the instructor. When I realised I could control my buoyancy by long, slow, deep breaths it was a game changer!

Due to previous faffing about, we didn’t finish up and get home till much later than planned, which was frustrating as Aric was going to a work Armistice event I wanted to join him at but couldn’t. 

Our final day was spent diving at Goat Island.  I hitched a lift with the dive instructors and as we passed another dive shop, one of them said ‘ah, it would be lovely to work up here wouldn’t it – so pretty’.  The other one replied ‘Nah, I looked at them once but their standards are far too high.  They want everyone to smile all the time, you have to be on time all the time, too much work’.  This quote alone sums up the diveschool I chose to dive with.  I don’t recommend them (Dive HQ Westhaven).  When we were kitting up for the Goat Island dive I went through 3 different gas cylinders as each one of them leaked (and one was only half full) – I had to choose the one that leaked the least.  Diving was much easier this time (even with a leaky cylinder) as I opted for one wet suit and no hood – what I lacked in warmth I made up for in manouverability! We did a few more skills then a bit of an under water swim, before heading back home – where the trailer broke and we got stuck on the motorway for an hour until someone came to pick us up.  No one knew what to do, they couldn’t get hold of the owner and they didn’t know who the vehicle and tow insurance was with.  We spent the hour loading and unloading the trailer and the Ute, then loading it again into the van.  I was not impressed and very glad to eventually arrive home at 7pm – we were meant to be back at the shop at 4.30pm.  Because of this, we also still haven’t been certified and need to go back to the shop at some point this week to fill in the final paperwork. 

Anyway rants aside about the poor service we received and how terrible the company was – I am glad I did it, and relieved it is over.  Bring on the fun dives!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

A long weekend in paradise

A few weekends ago we had a long weekend, so Aric, Tom, Natalie and I took a tiny plane to a far, far away tropical island known as Great Barrier Island.  When I say far, far away, it's just to make it sound all romantic - it's actually only a 30 min flight on an tiny little plane - though a bit further if you decide to take the ferry - about 4-5 hours depending on sea conditions. 

The plane journey over is delightful - it takes off from Auckland airport, but it's all very relaxed with no baggage or security screenings and you get on a golf cart to be take all of 20 metres to the plane.  Flying over Auckland is really cool - I know it's a watery city, but seeing it from the air makes you appreciate the vastness of it all - there's water in all directions!! 

We flew over lots of little islands before making our descent over beautiful beaches and landing next to the runway at Claris airport - I am assuming the landing on the grass was intentional and not that our pilot missed it accidentally. 

We picked up our bags, paid for our hire car and Natalie and Tom dropped Aric and I off at the track head for the Aotea track, where we began a 2 day hike whilst they went and explored the island by car and checked into their airbnb.

The hike we did was 7 hours on day 1 and 3 hours on day 2 (the trip is recommended as a 3 day one but we didn't want to spend all our time hiking).  Luckily the weather played ball and though predicted temperatures were 16 degrees high, it was a lot warmer than that (Aric's thermometer on his bag reading a balmy 21degrees!).  Day one started off as a beautiful track following an old tram line in the bush, before opening out onto a forestry road which undulated for a few hours or so.  It was deliciously silent, with only Tuis and Fantails to be heard, and we were enjoying the solitude, when suddenly, round the corner, a man appeared, wearing a wig, dressed in a bright pink workout dress, running up the hill. Very bizarre.  

We continued onwards, stopping at the first hut for a little rest, and marvelling at Mother Nature -  parts of the original pathway had been destroyed by landslides and we crossed bridges over tiny streams which had giant tree trunks and debris in them - hard to imagine the forces of water to have caused all of that!!!! Before finally - the steps from hell.  I hate steps.  They seemed never ending and painful.  My calves were crying.  At least the views were good - but my morale was quickly depleting with every lift of my legs.  Aric was a trooper and silently continued upwards, encouraging me and not getting annoyed at my slowness and constant 'wait, are there more steps?' each time he went off ahead of me. 

Walking over a landslide

Finally, we reached the top of the mountain - well when I say top, there was a 50m 2 minute detour to the actual summit of Mt Hobson - but we both looked at each other and shook our heads resoundingly - we were too dead to even contemplate 2 more minutes of uphill.  Plus, we could hear music blaring from the top, accompanied by excitable girls voices - so it wouldn't have been very peaceful anyways.  We later discovered it was a group of 19 year old Argentinian girls, Aric remarking that 'there is a time and a place for 19 year old Argentian girls, but that just wasn't one of them'.  

We began our descent to the hut, each corner we turned I assumed it would be there, but it wasn't - until, suddenly there it was!!!!! - and I nearly cried with relief.  When I checked the bookings earlier on in the week, we were the only ones booked on, so we were pretty gutted to discover a couple already there, all settled in over a cup of tea.  I was so tired I collapsed on the deck outside and lay there for 20 minutes whilst Aric was the social one and chatted to the couple.  They were doing the same hike but were doing the 3 day version, hence being a lot fresher and getting to the hut earlier than us.  Eventually I regained some energy (seriously I was so dead) and we sat on the deck in the sun chatting to the couple and drinking beers we had brought with us - it was wonderful.  The views are AMAZING.  

An hour or so later another guy joined us and foolishly, even though this is LITERALLY THE FIRST RULE OF STAYING IN HUTS - we hadn't claimed our bunks, and there were 2 bunkrooms, and the couple were already in one and the guy chose the other one, so we had the awkward decision of deciding if we wanted to bunk with the couple or the old man.  We chose the couple and hoped they wouldn't mind!

We ate our dinner watching the sunset, then sat outside in the dark star spotting and listening to the Jurassic Park like screeches of the Kaka (a brown parrot) flying overhead. 

The next day we woke bright and early, had a breakfast of porridge, marvelled at the view again before packing up and heading down  - we had agreed to meet Natalie and Tom at the natural hot pools which were about 3/4 of the way back down.  The walk down was lots more steps, but at least down this time (though our legs did start to wobble a little bit) before flattening out along a very pretty board walk over some wetland.  We bumped into Natalie and Tom, who greeted us with 'oh, we thought about bringing you a packed lunch but decided not to' - THANKS GUYS! (it's the thought that counts) and had a well deserved soak in the shallow but moderately hot, hot pools.  

Making it back to the car in one piece, we drove to a cafe called My Fat Puku and fuelled up before heading back to our airbnb - which was AMAZING.  Partly chosen for its name (Shark Alley - how could Aric resist?) but also because the views were immense.  Getting there was a bit of a pain - it's the other side of a little estuary, so unless you have a 4x4 to drive across, you have to park up and walk over the pedestian bridge, then walk another 15 minutes along a gravel road and up a steep driveway - but it is worth it.  

Enjoying the bach view (that's a pun btw)

Photo credit: Tom Hoagland - our bach even had its own maze....

We went down to the beach to explore - a mere 4 minute walk to a gorgeous semi private bay, and contemplated a swim.  We did that thing when it's pretty cold and so you inch in and scream every time a wave gets a bit higher than before, and were about to just take the plunge when Aric shouted 'stop' and pointed out an Eagle Ray directly below us - right where we were about to jump in. Good spot! Wouldn't have wanted to have trodden on that.  That put me off swimming (I was on the on the edge anyways due to the temperature) so I quickly backed out and settled for paddling in the shadows, and on closer inspection we saw 6 more rays sunbathing - how cool! 

The following day we hopped into the car to explore more of the island, starting off with breakfast in Tryphena on the south of the island. We found a delightful but super expensive cafe (everything is expensive here as it's all shipped/flown across from Auckland - we filled up our car at the end of the trip and half a tank of fuel cost $95!!) before heading to Cape Barrier, a southern spot on the island where back in the olden days men used to catch migrating humpback whales.    A lot of roads of GBI are gravel, so we were making our way down a remote gravel road when suddenly we came across a guy collapsed on the hood of his car, and a car hanging precariously over the edge behind his, and some people wandering around like zombies.  We were freaking out a bit as we thought something terrible had happened so asked a guy who was conscious and hanging around if everything was OK, and he was very unconcerned and said the crashed car had been there ages and everything was fine.  Weird.  So we carried on and went for a lovely little walk and tried to spot some whales but there were none (probably because all the Whalers killed them all) and on the way back luckily the collapsed guy and his car was gone (we think he was just resting) and we overheard locals later talking about the epic party in the area we were in so I think everyone was either hungover or high or both. 

New Zealand colours are so saturated, I love it!

Whale spotting

We drove to Port Fitzroy as we heard there's a Kauri tree you can go up in - there's a really cool bush walk to get to it, but sadly (and really we should have guessed this given what's happening in Auckland) the Kauri tree was closed off to the public due to Kauri dieback.  Completely understandable but a bit sad as they've build a little swingbridge to the top of the tree which would have been really cool to have gone in.  

Our last day was spent climbing up the little mound of land behind our airbnb for stunning sea views, then driving to some mermaid pools for a little dip (essentially a large, completely clear rockpool) then brunch and sunbathing on a completely deserted beach despite it being a bank holiday and the weather being beautiful - where was everyone?!  

We boarded our little plane back to Auckland and landed with a bump back to reality.  

GBI is a great little weekend trip - it's so small you probably wouldn't want to go for more than a few days (unless you're wanting somewhere to completely switch off and relax - because the island is so far away from the mainland, everything is off the grid so mobile reception and wifi is limited and power is solar in a lot of places - and the main town consists of a few eateries, a gift shop, an art gallery and a petrol station).  We flew with Fly My Sky and ended up paying for the expensive flight tickets because we booked pretty late, but we got 20kg of luggage whereas the cheaper tickets have less.  The flights are also completely refundable up to 24hr of departure, which is really great if the weather isn't looking so good.  We hired a car from Claris Airport Rentals and got a tidy Rav4 for $60 a day - really reasonable, and worth shopping around as other car rentals were more expensive.