Island Time


Stone at Orama Oasis Christian Retreat

I’ve been to paradise and back since we last ‘spoke’.

My family has just returned from an incredible holiday on Great Barrier Island/Aotea (GBI).  Two years in the planning (and saving!), the trip was a 70th birthday gift for my well-travelled father who only had only two places left in the whole of New Zealand to visit: GBI and the Chatham Islands (Chathams, you’re next).

What an adventure we had!  Tiny planes, schlepping all the food we could, flooded and nail-biting roads, tropical downpours, pristine beaches, breath-taking views, and magic family moments to treasure.  I want to go back, the island is just so beautiful.

Great Barrier Island lies north-east of Auckland, and is a 30 minute plane trip or 4-and-a-half hour ferry ride away.  With a resident population of 800, and around 60% of the island being conservation land, GBI is a fantastic spot to get away from it all and recharge tired batteries.

I went with D, my two tots, my parents and my mother-in-law.  D took one for the team and drove our car to Auckland, and then caught the ferry over to GBI the next day.  The car was packed to the gills with food for the week, as being an island, food is expensive due to having to freight most things over from Auckland.  Meanwhile the rest of us flew to Auckland, and then caught a tiny six-seater plane over to the island.


Chip enjoying his first plane ride…for the moment

Sausage has been to Europe and looked rather bored with the whole plane thing, but plane-obsessed Chip was so excited to go on his first plane ride.  He amused us by asking if we were ‘ready’ about 30 times before we took off.  He did well, but we had a rough descent into Auckland so he screamed the plane down for the last 15 minutes.  Such fun!

Chip was a champ on the next flight however, because he could see out better, and the view of the Hauraki Gulf with all its beautiful islands, and our first glimpse of GBI is not a flight I will forget in a hurry.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, GBI is beautiful.  Lush rainforest, quirky settlements and golden beaches.

We stayed in the north-western part of the Island, at Orama Oasis.  Orama is a Christian community that has been based on GBI since the 70s, and they provide adventure holidays, spiritual retreats and run training workshops.  D had stayed at Orama before and loved it, and when I discovered we could get a sea view unit I was sold.

What a special place.

The top left picture is the view of Karaka Bay from our accommodation.  Most nights found us simply watching the sunset over the bay, revelling in the stillness and beauty.

Orama has about 20 staff and also has volunteers that run the retreat centre, the farm and work on their garden.  The Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre is also based at Orama, and a large group of home-schooled teenagers were having the time of their lives when we arrived.

On our second day, we were car-less (waiting for D to arrive) but it mattered not.  ‘Did you know we have a creche?’ said one of the workers to me.  No, I didn’t.  My jaw hit the floor when I saw it.


It is a mini-Playcentre with everything a toddler could want, including a playhouse and sandpit outside.

That day just happened to be play group day, so we got to meet several locals, including a family who live in a boat.  My tots had an absolute ball playing with the other kids, and we enjoyed chatting with the lovely mums who either lived at Orama or nearby.

We got some beach time in at Mabey’s beach before the rain came.  Golden sand, warm water.  We had it all to ourselves.

We were unlucky to get three days of tropical downpours, but the locals were thrilled to get rain after weeks and weeks of none.  We had one day where it poured all day, and we were extremely grateful for the creche room at Orama which kept Sausage and Chip happy and probably saved our sanity.

We checked out Claris and Tryphena, the main villages, and Port Fitzroy where D and I were given a night out by his mum.

The kids, D and I headed to Okiwi Park, next to the closest school to Orama (there are 3 schools on the island).  Okiwi Park has a cool bike track, and lots of charming information signs made by the local school children.


We had a brilliant play at Gooseberry Flat beach at Tryphena.


But the best bit was being together.  D and I loved having extra eyes on our tots, and the grandparents loved their shenanigans.  Having dinner with everyone at Orama, giggling at ‘The Man Who Knew Too Little’, heaving a sigh of relief at making it through a flooded road, and never getting tired of the view of Karaka Bay meant for one special holiday.  Little moments like this:

Grandpa was a very good sport about being ‘stickered’.

My folks and MIL flew back while D, the kids and I took the ferry back to Auckland.  We spent a couple of days there, taking the kids to attractions that we don’t have closer to home.  My sea creature-mad girl loved Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium, although I almost died at the price – $90!  Insane!  It is an amazing place, but the entrance fee puts it out of reach of many people.

We also took our machinery-mad boy to MOTAT, the Museum of Transport and Technology.  MOTAT was one of my favourite places to visit as a kid, and it was a joy to see my own kids scampering around excitedly.

I was reminded of how much I hate Auckland.  The traffic is diabolical, and D and I ended up in a shouting match due to the stress of navigating its busy roads.  It made me realise that visiting there is not my idea of a good time.  I have lived in big cities (including Auckland, London and Seoul) but I don’t think I could ever do it again.  I really value our lifestyle in Whanganui with its five-minute commute anywhere.  Much less stressful!

We definitely came home rejuvenated from our trip away, and are plotting to return to GBI one day.

Great Barrier Island, I’ll be back!


Dollar Diet Week 5: Love walks in

An unexpected expense hit our wallets this week – getting the house flea-treated.  Yuck.  Extremely frustrating as we didn’t have any pets (although we do now, more on that later).  It wasn’t a bad infestation or anything, but I react very badly to insect bites so we had to take action asap.

Aside from that, it was a relatively frugal week.


  • had friends over/visited friends
  • made bread and baked cookies with the children
  • made several jars of plum chutney, as our plum trees are fruiting nicely
  • passed on outgrown clothes to friends
  • packed lunch and snacks when out and about
  • hung out at home as much as possible

The big news is that my Dad won a girl’s bike in a competition!  The bike is really decent (it’s an expensive brand) and will last Sausage for several years.  She turns five next year so getting her a decent bike was on my radar, but Dad’s win has saved us quite a bit of money.


Happy girl!

I am always on the lookout for free or cheap things to do with my family, so when I spotted an article about ‘Wheels in Whanganui’ happening over the weekend, I marked it on the calendar.  It’s the first time this event was run, and was a collection of cars, trucks and other machinery for families to come and look out.  They also had bouncy castles, a merry-go-round, other rides and food stalls so there was very festive atmosphere.  It was run as a fund-raiser, with a small entry fee to get in ($2 each for D and I, kids free) and it was a fun and frugal way to spend the afternoon.


At the end of the week Chip and I spent the morning visiting his new kindy (more on that later).  A little calico cat was hanging around much to the delight of the children, but no one had ever seen her before.  She was obviously hungry and looking for company and it was love at first sight for me.  We only live around the corner from the kindy, so I thought I could take her home until we discovered who her owners were.

We knocked on doors and I put her picture on Facebook.  We found her owner within a few hours.  Only the ‘owner’ didn’t want her anymore as they are moving countries, nor had they inoculated  or spayed her.  Don’t get me started on irresponsible pet owners!  Anyway, she has a new name and a new home (Sausage’s bed…), and she’s a brilliant cat, so we feel like we got the better end of the deal.  She’s been with us a week now and I am besotted.


Seriously, who could resist that face?

Crazy Cat Lady, that’s me.