North Island, New Zealand

By the third week of January, our days on the South Island were numbered and we only had a couple of nights left before crossing over to New Zealand’s North Island.  Leaving Pete’s Farm Stay was difficult, particularly for Thayer who would have gladly stuffed her friend Mary (the sheep) into her duffel bag.  Our next stop was the coastal town of Kaikoura where marine life abounds in the form of whales, dolphins, and seals galore.  There are plenty of adventurous means by which one can view the wildlife here, from kayaking to boat tours, or even swimming alongside them, but our little crew opted for a more mellow approach — we took a hike into the woods to a beautiful waterfall, followed by a stroll down to the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean to see the fur seals and their pups in action. 

A delightful wooded trail led to this waterfall

A delightful wooded trail led to this waterfall

SCHUYLER: Hi everyone, it’s Schuyler here! In Kaikoura, the seal pups were just born.  We went to see them and they were super cute! I loved the way they waddled and tried to keep up with their Moms. They often fell off rocks and into the water. All of the babies would splash around together in a tiny cove that the waves came in and out of.  The cove was surrounded by rocks so the pups did not go out to sea. They were so entertaining but we could not get too close because their mothers are very protective.


Walking down to the rocks for a closer look at the seals

There were dozens of entertaining pups like this one

There were dozens of entertaining pups like this one

Mother and pup

Mother and pup

The only downer during our two days in Kaikoura was the New England Patriots’ playoff game.  For the first time on our entire trip, Jeff found ESPN’s live broadcast of the Pats game against Denver and basically worked himself into a frenzy of joy about being able to watch an entire football game live… only to watch them lose.  And to think he woke up at 5:30am to do this!  He is still trying to move forward from this experience, but it’s a challenge.  He is equally as angry that Blair is posting this picture of him. 

Photo taken before the agony of playoff defeat

Photo taken before the agony of playoff defeat

North We Go

From Kaikoura we drove straight to Picton and got on the Interislander Ferry for a three-hour crossing over the Cook Strait to WellingtonNorth Island.  Rain and thick fog blocked any viewing we might have enjoyed from the boat, but the cruise ship-like experience was enough to keep the girls busy (children’s playrooms, magic show, multiple cafes and lounges). 

Interislander Ferry

Interislander Ferry

Farewell to the S. Island

Farewell to the S. Island

Wellington sits at the southwestern tip of the North Island and is New Zealand’s capital city.  It has a reputation for windy, temperamental weather which is juxtaposed by a very groovy fun vibe, and it scores at the top of the charts on those “quality of life” indicators.  We spent only one night here, but took advantage of the walkability of the city and the well known, and fabulous, Te Papa Museum.

Mural in the city

“Graffiti” in the city

Exploring the city, this was our favorite wall-art

Having fun with the sharks

Thayer does some research  on rocks at the Te Papa Museum

Thayer does some research on bugs at the Te Papa Museum

Wellington Youth Hostel

BLAIR: I took the initiative for our Wellington accommodation and decided to harken back to my days with a backpack by booking our family into the Wellington Youth Hostel.  Really, it got rave reviews in our Lonely Planet Guidebook and was centrally located, so why not? Yes, we were some of the oldest and youngest residents that night, and yes, we had to cram into a tiny room with bunk beds, a cot, and a full bed that reeked of the b.o. of thousands of backpackers who had come and gone before us.  Ok so we had to share a tiny unventilated bathroom and jump over our luggage to enter it, and we had to make our beds with the cot sheets provided and pray that the comforters had been dry cleaned within the past decade.  “This is a cultural experience!” I exclaimed to the girls, “Welcome to the life of a backpacker guys!”  Jeff gave me some raised eyebrows but said no more.  Finally, I had come home…with four skeptics in tow.

Bad photo, but gives a sense of scale

Bad photo, but gives a sense of scale

Zoe on her cot in our room

Zoe on her cot in our room

Thayer unfortunately takes her turn in the bathroom after Jeff comes out, so she takes added precautions...

Preparing for the unventilated bathroom serving a family of five

THAYER:  The bathroom was so stinky! I didn’t like it at all but I had to go in.  I know this picture looks funny and my family all laughed but to me, it’s not that funny. 

Soon enough, we were driven out of the room by the aroma and cramped quarters, so we brought journals and cards downstairs to the hostel’s common area. Within minutes, Jeff and Thayer were entertaining the German and Israeli travelers with their animated game of Crazy Eights, while Schuyler and Zoe struck up conversations with an Argentinian woman and Brazilian man who had been having a heated discussion in rapid Spanish/Portuguese at their table.  

Zoe maps our S. Island route for her journal/scrapbook

In the hostel lounge, Zoe maps our S. Island route for her journal/scrapbook

Schuyler journals while Thayer and Jeff play cards

Schuyler journals while Thayer and Jeff play cards.

By the next afternoon, Luisa (Argentinian) was babysitting the girls, making string bracelets and swapping travel stories, while Jeff and I went to the supermarket unencumbered by children and stocked up for our next farm stay.  

Luisa and her new pals

Luisa and her new pals

ZOE: The Wellington YHA was, well, small and smelly when it came to our actual room. We kept tripping over bags and each other, and the bathroom had a hard time handling the five of us if you know what I mean, so we wrapped Dad’s t-shirt around our faces before entering to assist our breathing.  BUT… when we went downstairs to hang out in the lounge, it was so fun to chat with all the travelers about our family’s year abroad. Everyone was so interested and wanted to hear more about what we were doing.  Luisa from Argentina was especially excited to talk with us and spend time with us kids.  She kept saying “I love you! I’m so happy! I’m so happy!” and it made me feel really joyful to know that we were giving happiness to other people by sharing our stories.  Even though I had a great time there, I don’t think I need to stay in more hostels right now!

From Wellington, we spent about a week winding our way up the middle of the North Island.  After such a successful experience with Pete and Gaye on their farm down south, Jeff did some quick research and found another farm stay for us about two hours north of Wellington.   


Street sign for Rangitikei Farm

Street sign for Rangitikei Farm

Owned and operated by Andrew and Kylie Stewart, Rangitikei Farm is a 1600 acre working farm with 2500 sheep and over 300 cattle.  Andrew’s family has been farming this land for 110 years and he, Kylie, and their young daughter, Hannah, represent the next generation of farming in New Zealand.  We had an absolutely fabulous three days with the Stewarts and really got a sense of the life of a working family farm here, not to mention enjoying the company of the Stewarts who were fabulous hosts and wonderful to get to know. 

We started our farm tour with visit from the farm’s shepherd, Keeghan, who demonstrated how to muster sheep with the help of his four working dogs.  Keeghan used his whistle and his own lungs to individually instruct each dog as they brought a small group of rams down from the hills to be “dosed” or given medication.  It was fascinating to watch the dogs and shepherd work together, almost in a kind of dance, as they brought the sheep to the wool shed.  

A working dog herds the sheep toward the wool shed

Keeghan and his dogs herd the sheep toward the wool shed

Keagan, the farm's Shepherd, on the way down to greet us with his dogs

Whistle in his mouth, Keeghan comes down the hill

Zoe and Thayer get to hang on Sweetie's back

Zoe and Thayer get to hang on the horse’s back

Once safely in the wool shed, there was more work to be done.  All of the rams needed to be moved from a holding pen into a narrow, single-file pen where Keeghan could administer the medication.  Using one of his dogs whose specialty was barking and jumping on the sheep to get them to move, Keeghan gave us quite a show, while the rams showed him and the dog their stubborn natures. 


The working dog jumps on the backs of the rams to coral them into the next pen


Keeghan uses his whistle to instruct the incredibly well-trained dog


Zoe and Thayer, with the howling canine behind them!


Keeghan doses the rams with their medicine


Thanking the dog for his hard work


Little Hannah Stewart joins the girls for a peek at the sheep

Andrew gives a talk about shearing at Rangitikei Farm

Andrew gives a talk about shearing at Rangitikei Farm


Heaping piles of wool in the shearing shed


Original shearing tools on display in the wool shed


Thayer plays outside the wool shed


The dogs get ready to herd the sheep back out to the pastures, awaiting their master’s command with great anticipation


Keeghan leads the girls back toward the pastures, dogs right at their heels


Zoe cuddles up with Andrew’s dog, Tack,


Schuyler and Jeff share a moment with Cloud

After interacting with the sheep and learning so much from Keeghan and Andrew about that aspect of the farm, the girls were equally thrilled to spend time with the other farm animals.  Kylie and Hannah helped us feed the pig, Schnitzell, the Clydsdale horse, Tux, the naughty goat, Ratbag, the miniature horses Bo and Dude, some chickens, and even some pet sheep who live closer to the farmhouse.


This was one hungry pig!


The girls loved petting big friendly Tux


Thayer gets her hands on a chicken, with Kylie’s help

THAYER: It felt so weird when I was holding the chicken but it was also nice. I want you to know that the chicken was friendly!  I love that chicken. I think it’s my favorite. I also got some eggs so I could eat them. They were sooooooo delicious. Being on the farm was so awesome.  I love that there was a garden right next to where we ate our meals.  I love that farm. I especially love the animals! Bye!


Collecting the eggs


Ratbag the naughty goat

ZOE:  Ratbag, the farm’s black goat, was one of the most entertaining animals to spend time with. His name “Ratbag” kind of means mischievous or naughty and cheeky here in New Zealand.  He arrived at Rangitikei with that name because his former owners tried to take care of him but claimed he was just too naughty for their farm and family.  He kept on eating their garden and always found a way to escape his tether or enclosure.  Kylie and Andrew welcomed him to their farm where he remains cheeky and naughty, but is well loved.  We found out just how much of a ratbag Ratbag is when we wandered down the driveway one afternoon when Dad, Schuyler, Thayer and I were taking a peaceful walk to visit the ducks. To our surprise, we saw Ratbag strolling down the driveway when he was supposed to be tethered to his barrel and little goat shack in a nearby meadow.  At first we were happy to see him, and then we realized something was wrong with this picture.  I quickly grabbed his collar when he tried to dash away.  Thayer was holding a bag of bread and Ratbag was racing toward that bag, and I felt like my arm was going to rip off!  He was so strong! We dragged him to the tennis court (more like he dragged us) and I went to find Kylie to come and help us.  When I told Kylie the story of how and where we found Ratbag she wasn’t at all surprised – Ratbag has a habit of escaping.  I think his name fits him perfectly! 


Trying to capture Ratbag on the loose


All four girls call down to the pet sheep, shaking the food bowl to entice them to come up the hill for a snack


Attempting to feed a sheep by hand – it took some patience but paid off in the end


Grooming Dude before we saddle him up


Zoe befriends the very shy, Bo, and is rewarded with this kodak moment

ZOE: Bo was a rescue horse that Kylie and Andrew took in when he was discovered to be neglected. His first owners never took the bridle off from around his neck and it had begun to grow into his skin.  He was very badly treated at that home. Luckily, Kylie and Andrew were there to step in and take him onto their farm.  Because of his history, Bo is very shy and won’t go anywhere near bridles.  Even though he is afraid of most people, he is still lovely to have on the farm and he and Dude are good pals.  I thought it was really special that he let me get near to him, and even brush him once. Kylie said that normally he wouldn’t let people brush him, including even her sometimes, and that it was amazing that he was trusting me to take care of him.  I really loved that he trusted me and felt safe with me. 


Thayer is thrilled to ride a horse her own size!

THAYER:  I loved Dude. But he was kind of frisky. It felt so weird to sit on a really small horse and the stirrups kept popping off, but I stayed on and even got to trot.  It was so fun. I trotted on the grass tennis court. It was so fun, like I said. 

Another one of our farm stay activities was a tour of the property with Andrew in his truck.  We spent about an hour driving over the hills and through the pastures, learning about the property’s history and maintenance, and many of the nuances of present day farming in New Zealand. It was amazing!


Ready to leave on our tour with Andrew


Jeff and Andrew take in the view of the property from the hill above the farmhouse


Looking down on Rangitikei Farm’s main house and guest cottages


The landscape was breathtaking


We explored an old shed, originally used by workers who camped there while clearing bush or working the land


Inside the shed, original furniture still there – very spooky and fabulous for the girls to explore!

In our free time at the farm, we wandered the property, fed the ducks, played soccer on the grass tennis court, jumped on Hannah’s trampoline, collected veggies from the garden, and played with the beloved family dog, Barney.  It was such a relaxing stay for us and we enjoyed every minute. 


Playing with the signs posted around the property


At the duck pond


View down the driveway from our little cottage

Zoe helps Kylie in the veggie garden, collecting beans

Zoe helps Kylie in the veggie garden, collecting beans


Kylie brought out marshmallows and let the girls roast them, reminding us of sumer nights at home


A group shot with Kylie, Andrew and Hannah before our departure

We were all sad to leave the farm, and we felt so lucky to have met Kylie, Andrew and Hannah.  Hopefully we will keep in touch with them and perhaps host them someday for a “home stay” in Portsmouth!  

Taupo and Rotorua

With four nights to go before arriving at our our new “home away from home” in Mount Maunganui, we explored the lake regions of Taupo and Rotorua.  We were able to experience some of the Maori cultural activities in this area which were a new and welcome addition to our travels here. 

Maori cultural performance, note the warrior face in the middle

Maori cultural performance, note the warrior face in the middle


Girls show off their Maori warrior faces


Exploring traditional Maori huts


Inside a Maori wood carving school


Watching the carvers at work

This Maori word must hold a world record for number of letters. Just try to pronounce it!

This Maori word must hold a world record for number of letters. Just try to pronounce it!

In addition to the Maori culture, Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity.  Geysers, bubbling mud pools, and thermal hot springs abound and the rotten egg smell of sulphur permeates the air all around the town.  We were wowed by all the geological features so unfamiliar to us, and exploring the paths along mud pools and exploding geysers was a highlight during our stay here. 


The Pohutu Geyser


Rotten eggs!

THAYER: The geysers were so stinky.  I had a hard time breathing near them. Besides that, I loved watching them explode high in the air.  The heat underground was making the water boil and explode.  This happened a few times every hour. I’ve never seen anything in my life like this before.


Steam and bubbling mud pools made us feel as if we were on another planet


In front of a smelly, bubbling pool of mud

After our time in Rotorua, it was time to travel one hour north and east to the coastal town of Mount Maunganui along the Bay of Plenty.  This will be our home for the next 2 months (Feb. and March), and the girls will start school in the local primary and middle schools when the term begins on Feb. 3.  Our next post will cover life in one place as opposed to life on the road!  It will feel GREAT to settle down for a while and begin a new routine.  We will try and get the next post up and running asap! 

See you soon!

Turning into Kiwis… not a bad life

Turning into Kiwis… not a bad life

Categories: NEW ZEALAND, North Island, New Zealand


  1. Absolutely beautiful and so informative! I love hearing everyone’s perspective on life abroad. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the hostel. Sometimes memories are so good that you forget the bad part of the experience! Can’t wait to hear about school in NZ. You will definitely have to get to Chiang Mai!

  2. Another interesting chapter in an already great book! Enjoyed reading your farm-experiences, and equally enjoyed your adventures in the hostel. Yessir, life on the road can be smelly at times. And the reward of greasy beds is meeting fellow travellers and their stories. Some of them may turn into lifelong friends ! When I saw the picture of the abandoned workers shed it reminded me of a room in China we once stayed in ….ah well, as I said: life on the road is smelly at times…. Go, Demers, go. Keep us informed. We never tire of your stories.

  3. It warms my heart to see others following our little family and enjoying it as much as we do.
    What memories and growth producing experiences! Thanks to our big kids for giving our little ones this gift!
    Your journey to the North island was rich indeed. Miss you terribly! Mem & Pep

  4. You guys have to check out Black Water Rafting. It’s a couple hours west of Whakatane and Mt. Manganui. Best thing I did when I lived there! I went by myself as Cam and Luke were only 3 and 1. Not sure of age limits but find it online. Well worth a day trip.
    If you get to Ohope Beach find our house on the main road (Pohutakawa Ave, if I remember right it was 117) and pick some avocados from the tree overhanging the sidewalk. You might need to climb a bit b/c the neighbors pick the low ones. It’s a rental place so I don’t think trespassing applies. I’m sure that’s written law.
    I still feel protective of those avocados!!

  5. We were craving an update from down under. Thank you for the virtual trip through Kaikoura, the Sounds, Wellington and the North Island! Kia Ora Demers family. Or, as we like to say “Tip Top, cookie time” (have you seen these signs in NZ?).

  6. What a wonderful experience for the people you have met along the way. You learn from them, and they learn from you. That’s what makes the world go round. Love & kisses.

  7. We miss you guys so much! I hope you are having fun.
    Much love

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