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Day trips from Whanganui: King Edward Park, Hawera

When a suitable day arises, most folks in my town, Whanganui, like to head over Palmerston North to shop (hello, K Mart) and make use of the great facilities that bigger cities have.  Me, I like to head in the opposite direction.

duckpond KEP 2 totsintawhero

There’s loads to do in South Taranaki; you’ll only need a few minutes on Google to find something that will float your boat.  I am easily pleased.  I love parks, the beach, museums, libraries and art galleries, and a good cafe or two.  My kids are following in my footsteps as going to a museum is their idea of a good time, but long road trips are not.  However, they can be placated by the promise of a great playground along the way, and that’s what brought us to King Edward Park in Hawera, this time around.

We passed through Hawera on our way to New Plymouth, but Hawera itself is definitely worthy of a day trip.  Along with King Edward Park, you could check out the incredible Tawhiti Museum (although it has the most frustrating opening times, check their website before you go) or stick with nature at Goodson Dell and Naumai Park. 

But I digress, back to the park!

King Edward Park has something for everyone.  Cool play equipment, a duck pond, manicured lawns and flower gardens, free BBQs, plenty of picnic tables, and tennis courts.  We spent a good couple of hours here and I’ll definitely go back with my family in summer.

pirate ship KEP totsintawhero

playground King Edward Park totsintawherotoddler play totsintwahero

Chinese garden KEP totsintawhero

Entrance to the beautiful Chinese garden

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Thanks Hawera!

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Things to do in Whanganui: Waitahinga Trails (alternative title: I’m just wild about Harry)

The Waitahinga trails are a 40 minute drive from Whanganui, and are 12km past Bushy Park Sanctuary (the road past the sanctuary to the trails is unsealed, FYI).  The land has been owned by the Whanganui City Council for many years, but it is only recently that the trails have been developed for all to enjoy (thanks Whanganui Tramping Club, you guys are awesome!).  The forest is a mix of old and regenerating flora, and in most parts you will be serenaded by tuis, piwakawakas, riroriro, cicadas, and the occasional hive of bees.

There are several trails, rated from easy to moderate.  I took the longest route to the Waitahinga Dam and found it challenging in some parts (more on that later), but mostly fine for my level of fitness.  The tracks are very well marked so there is slim chance of getting lost.

There are two easy trails – the Picnic Dell and the Chicken Run – however, to get to the start of the trails you have to walk up a ruddy great hill, so I would only recommend trying these on foot with your more active toddler.  The road to the dell is fine for strollers etc, but you will need muscle power to get that stroller up the hill.

The Chicken Run is a 30 minute loop walk that has two vista points (where you can see Mts Ruapehu and Taranaki) and is suitable for school-aged children and older toddlers.

The other tracks can be done as shorter walks, but most people will take them all in getting to and from the Waitahinga Dam.  The dam is located 250m lower than the start of the track, which means after you get there, a decent climb back UP awaits you.

The Okehu track takes you through gorgeous bush, and then it is recommended to take ‘Tom’s Ridge’ down to the dam, and ‘Harry’s Ridge’ back up.  Of the two, Tom is shorter but steeper, while Harry meanders its way back in a more leisurely fashion.

Tom’s Ridge looks newer, and the track is -for want of a better word – quite rooty.  I know, tree roots in a forest?  How very dare they!  Anyway, what I mean is, this section of the trail can be a bit tricky due to the roots, so you do have to watch your step.  I definitely recommend wearing boots for this walk.  I didn’t find Tom too challenging until the last 100m or so when the track suddenly plummets down.  This part of the ridge is less dense with bush, meaning fewer things to hang onto.  I was quietly terrified by the steep, slippery incline and ended up having to turn myself around to climb down, clutching onto roots and saplings when I could.  But I survived.

At the bottom of the hilly slip-o-rama, it is a short walk to the dam.  I made it from the carpark to the dam in 2 1/2 hours.  I’m a cautious walker (and by that I mean, I’m a naturally clumsy person, so whilst walking solo, I take my time lest I should break a leg and have to be ignominiously rescued…) but I’m surer more nimble folk could do it in two.  Anyway, here is the dam:

waitahingadam3totsintawherowaitahingadam2totsintawherowaitahingadam1totsintawhero

Beautiful, isn’t she?

It’s a wonderful spot to just sit and marvel at Creation, and I had the place (and indeed the track) all to myself.  The dam was once the source of Whanganui’s water and is absolutely worth the trouble of getting there.

And then, there’s Harry.

I so enjoyed this part of the trail.  It’s pretty steep in places, and being mostly uphill, takes more time than Tom (it took me just over three hours to get back to the carpark).  The occasional steep part aside, Harry wanders calmly back up.  There is a wonderful area called Spaghetti Flat which is filled with supplejack, and really does look like tree-made spaghetti.  I ran into several families of goats (unless it was the same group stalking me?) along here.  From there you enter the Rimu walk which then rejoins the Orehu track, taking you back to the carpark.

waitahingatrail2totsintawhero

I found the last 15 minutes of the Orehu track to be hard slog, and was relieved to see the end of the trail.

What a great day!

3

Dollar Diet: What I have learnt

It’s hard to fathom how swiftly this year has gone by.  For our Tawhero household it’s been an interesting year – one of change, growth, sickness, adventures and yet more sickness.  But on the whole, it’s been a positive year.

I embarked on the Dollar Diet simply to see if I could.  I wanted to plug up the holes in our budget, save money for two overseas trips, be more mindful of my spending, do more with less, and challenge my little grey cells.

Has my year of penny pinching been a raging success?

Yes, and no.

Yes we saved money.  That’s for sure!  I cannot give you an exact figure as lots of our Dollar Diet savings got gobbled up after D quit his job to start his own business (which is doing rather well).  We had several months of no income as we waited for the business to get up and running.  Suddenly the Dollar Diet wasn’t just to challenge myself – it was a necessity.

Our savings gave us enough of a cushion to withstand those months with no income, and as we were already practising frugal habits there was little adjustment to be made to our lifestyle.  The Dollar Diet protected us from some of the pressure and stress that happens when you suddenly experience a drop in income.

Using the Goodbudget app, which tracks all of your spending, we quickly discovered the myriad of holes that were in our ‘carefully constructed’ budget.

Yes, I am much more mindful of my spending.  More often than not if I see something I like in the shops, I merely appreciate it and move on.  I still love nothing more than perusing an op-shop, but usually come away empty-handed because there is nothing I need.  This year I have gone to a restaurant exactly four times, we stopped frequenting our favourite lunch bar (now I think ‘Gadzooks! Why spend crazy money on sandwiches!’), and we have rarely darkened the door of a cafe.  Little things to ‘treat myself’ like magazines, nice stationery, or a new scarf went unpurchased and unmissed.

I think the gamechanger for me has been to calculate total expenditure on something over a year.  There really is no better perspective than going ‘Umm, we spend $1000 a year on wine/coffee/takeaway lunch/chocolate/[insert your vice of choice here]’.  All those little purchases each week can add up to a frightening sum.

Yes, I can do more with less.  One very surprising thing is thing is how much I have enjoyed playing around with my wardrobe now that I no longer go out and buy what I want.  Despite giving away about three-quarters of it thanks to Trim Healthy Mama, my wardrobe is still in reasonable shape, and it’s been fun to play around with different combinations of outfits.

I’ve enjoyed making cards and wrapping paper, and busting out my markers.  I’ve enjoyed making crafts with Sausage using things nabbed from our recycling bin, even if it means we make thirty collages.  That kid loves collage.

Fewer activities and events has meant more downtime, more time at home.  Which has been SUCH A GOOD THING.  D and I have never experienced so much sickness in one year before.  The kids, me, him, all of us at the same time (such fun!) – none of us made it through this year unscathed.  I try to limit the amount of things we do as a family but sometimes there’s just a whole bunch of crazy on the ol’ social calendar.  Saying no to things – especially those things that cost money – certainly helped us to get some much-needed rest.  Although, being parents of two toddlers, D and I would still like to swim in an ocean of rest, thank you very much.

Yes, it has been brain food.  I have learned new skills like making sandwich gardens, chutney and marmalade; and dusted off old skills like sewing, colouring, and hosting frugal shindigs.  I’ve enjoyed upcycling things like old tablecloths into Christmas sacks, or curtains into play costumes.

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Christmas sacks made from an old tablecloth adorn our mantelpiece

I look forward to that mythical creature – having more time when my children get a bit older – so I can do more upcycling.  It’s incredibly satisfying.  D has discovered his inner-DIYer, and has made fences, gates, paths, shelves, irrigation systems, and all manner of things which has saved us a considerable sum of money.  Great stuff, D.

No, being frugal ALL the time is hard.  I learned that I simply cannot be frugal all.of.the.time.  It’s hard work.  Being super-frugal means thinking and planning ahead.  For everything.  Meals, bring-a-plates, gifts, clothing, unexpected bills.  As the parent of two tots, my life is simply not that predictable.  I had good intentions of making every gift by hand this year.  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  I made some, but many gifts ended up being purchased from a store because I was too tired, or sick, or unprepared.

I guess I was hoping that all that frugality would force me into being some sort of budget Martha Stewart, making incredible creations from Weetbix boxes and loo roll.  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  Not to say that I didn’t get a few flashes of personal inspiration, but flipping heck, thank goodness for Pinterest.

No, I need a fun budget.  This did not really come as a surprise.  I am someone who needs something to look forward to.  I often get more of a buzz more from anticipating a good thing than from the thing itself.  I like taking my children on adventures.  Most of them have been free, but every now and then something really cool will come up that costs money, and I have gone ‘Stuff you, Dollar Diet!  Let’s go to the zoo’.

I also need a change of scene every now and then.  I have been somewhat of a nomad most of my adult life, so putting down roots in Tawhero is something of an experiment.  (It’s working, as I never want to move.)  But I still need to dust off my suitcase every once in a while.  If you are the sort of person who doesn’t really like travel this can be hard to understand.  I need to travel every now and then just so I can be settled in my ‘real life’, if this makes sense.

So next year, while we will continue in most of our frugal ways, we’re going to put in a little wiggle room for a few fun outings, or a date-night meal at a restaurant.

The Dollar Diet has been absolutely worthwhile, and I see no reason to ever stop.  I like throwing off the shackles of the consumerist system that we in the Western world are born into.  I like thumbing my nose at all the trappings my society says I should have in order to be considered ‘successful’.  I like being a good steward of the resources I have – and believe me, we are very blessed to live where we do in Tawhero.  I like spending time pottering around my house or garden, or visiting friends rather than a cafe.

It’s a good life.

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Trim Healthy Thursday: Stair Master

This week I finally got around to making paleo beetroot brownies.  I tweaked the recipe a bit so it was THM-compliant, and I must say they were pretty good but not ah-mazing.

We enjoyed a couple of meals of egg roll in a bowl, which is very budget-friendly and quick to prepare.  D liked it so much it’s on the menu again this week!  I feel a bit stuck in a rut with my go-to Trim Healthy Mama recipes, so I plan to set aside an hour or two over the weekend to peruse Pinterest for inspiration, and THMify some of our old pre-plan favourites until I get the new THM cookbook that everyone is raving about.

I am feeling ridiculously smug about how well I am doing with exercise.  Feel free to tell me to shut up!  I decided I was a bit fed up with the slow regime of couch-to-5k (it totally works though, just had itchy feet) and ran around our block to see if I could do it.  I did.  The block is about 4.4ks so I am really happy with my progress!  I have no ambition to run marathons, but I would like to be able to run 5k comfortably.  With the Tongariro Alpine Crossing looming up soon I have added stair-climbing into the mix.  And woah mama, is that a good workout!

I headed for the stairs on one of Whanganui’s biggest hills, Durie Hill.  I left home at the crack of dawn, eager to get stuck in.  Only, a bootcamp had got there ahead of me.  There were about 30 people going up and down these fairly steep and narrow steps.  I am someone who prefers to exercise solo and was miffed to be jostling with a crowd, to say the least.  I despaired of what to do next, because there aren’t exactly lots of suitable locations for stair-climbing in my town.

D to the rescue!  His office is in a three-storey building, and it’s perfect.  I get the place all to myself, work up one heck of a sweat, AND I can still work out when it’s raining.  Tongariro, here I come.

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Dollar Diet: Week 26, back on track

After last week’s bender, this week has been rather uneventful.

My mum gave me a pair of sneakers that didn’t fit her properly, which I was delighted about.  I have a lovely pair but they aren’t watertight, which is not the best thing ever when it’s raining.  The rubber seal had come away from the fabric a bit and I tried to repair it with shoe glue, which sort of worked.  They are otherwise perfectly presentable so I won’t be getting rid of them, but it is nice to not have soggy patches of sock when it pours down with rain.

New shoes!  See how boldly I defy fashion convention by mixing spots and stripes.

New shoes! See how boldly I defy fashion convention by mixing spots and stripes.

Our tangelos have come into season, and our grapefruit won’t be far behind.  I will make marmalade from the surplus, although finding people who eat it these days is tricky!  Poor old marmalade just isn’t cool anymore.  If I could make a sugar free version I would be happy, but alas, sugar is rather an important component.

I under-shopped our groceries this week, so much so that D bought $70 worth of fish and ground beef as it was on special.  It will do us for several weeks.

I ran out of steam on a very busy Sunday and couldn’t be bothered doing any baking for a neighbourhood support meeting I hosted, and bought a packet of biscuits – but I made up for it by doing some baking for my church home group.  I have two small tot birthday parties coming up where I have not been organised enough to craft something in advance, but after giving myself a stern talking to about taking this Dollar Diet seriously, I have plans afoot.

We had a massive power bill this month (over $300!) but we do have two tots whose rooms we heat at night via thermostat as they are still too small to think ‘I’m cold, I should turn on the heater/put on another blanket etc’.  Plus D works from home, and I am at home a lot with the kids.  Thanks to careful budgeting, this massive bill has meant we are only $10 in the red for that particular line of our budget (which of course we can pay for thanks to our Dollar Diet savings).

Our Dollar Diet savings mean that we can give more when we need to. 

We can be more generous.  We donated to Whanganui’s Mayoral Relief fund to help those affected by the recent flood.  There are so many people without insurance who have lost everything, and my heart goes out to them.  Having worked at a Soup Kitchen I know just how far a benefit can stretch, and insurance premiums just don’t factor in when it means the difference between feeding your kids or not.  I encourage you to give a little to this fund too and help get people back on their feet.

3

The rains came down and the floods came up…

We had a heck of a weekend here in Whanganui.

A months worth of rain was dumped upon us over two days, causing the worst ever flooding in the region on record.  Our city is bisected by a river which spilled over the stopbanks and flooded many homes and businesses on the waterfront.  The Sarjeant Art Gallery, where D and I had a fantastic night on Friday (another wonderful Pecha Kucha evening) was flooded only hours later.  Over 250 people were evacuated from their homes, many people losing everything and without insurance.  Bridges were either unsafe to use or submerged in water, and slips cut off several main highways causing havoc.  It may be several weeks before roads in very rural areas are re-opened.  The clean up around the city and elsewhere will take months.

D and I spent the weekend mopping up at my parent’s house.  They were spared muddy river water, but a problem with the storm water separation has seen part of their house flood in the past, and this time was no exception.  At one point on Saturday we had just finished cleaning up the water when the heavens reopened and sent more water back into the house.  I thought we might be stranded as our car had to navigate a heavily submerged street as we left my parent’s house.  I have never seen rain like it in all my life.  We managed to get everything cleaned up by Sunday lunchtime, but the stress and disruption was palpable.

Such events remind me that though we humans think we are ‘masters of the universe’, we are not.  We are always at the mercy of the elements.  In earthquake-prone New Zealand, we know all too well that our lives are not built upon the firm ‘rock’, but on unforgiving and unpredictable ground.

I think of the words in the book of James:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Life is uncertain.  We think we know where we are going.  We have it sorted.  But we are not in charge of Mother Nature despite mankind’s best efforts.  It takes very little to bring us to our knees.

But in times like these, that imperfect-yet-radiant-goodness of the human spirit is always evident.  People are cleaning up and carrying on.  Already, there are many stories of kindness and generosity bestowed to those affected by the flood.  As soon as it became obvious this was no ordinary downpour, local Facebook pages were abuzz with offers of accommodation, transport and help.  I’ve heard of people getting out in their kayaks to help rescue pets.  People making hot meals for rescue workers.  Neighbours are helping neighbours.  Today, high school kids armed with brooms and spades got stuck in to clean up streets covered in silt and debris.

For many, life will not return to normal for some time.  But carry on it does.

5

Queen’s Birthday Weekend

Warning: This post contains ridiculous amounts of photographs of Autumn leaves.  Leafophobics, look away.

Colour at Virginia Lake, Whanganui

Colour at Virginia Lake, Whanganui

In New Zealand, this past weekend has been a long one, with a day’s holiday for the Queen’s birthday.  Only, it’s not even held on her actual birthday…

Anyhow, whilst we didn’t have a good old shindig in which to toast her HRH, we at Tawhero (that’s a royal ‘we’) were nevertheless very grateful for the extra day off.  Here’s a few snaps of our long, leisurely weekend.

Waitahinga Tracks, just out of Whanganui

Waitahinga Tracks, just out of Whanganui

Finding forest 'treasure'

Finding forest ‘treasure’

Tots in Tawhero

Tots in Tawhero

Waitahinga forest

Waitahinga forest

On our walk we came across this wonder:

Now that's a digger

Now that’s a digger

Diggers are extremely exciting

Diggers are extremely exciting

I also did a lot of gardening.  D helped me move bricks that were put down as paving along the side of our house.  The paving served no purpose (it was in an awkward spot so walking on it was tricky) and was a NIGHTMARE to weed.

Stay tuned, you'll see these brick beauties again

Stay tuned, you’ll see these brick beauties again

I will be reusing the bricks for various projects around our garden, and have replaced the bricks with some groundcover plants.  These, and a layer of woodchips, will turn this high-maintenance strip of garden into a low-maintenance dream.

Much better

Much better

Oh, and I did this:

Ye olde wheelbarrow

Ye olde wheelbarrow

There was more walking, this time around Virginia Lake:

Could my baby get any smilier?

Could my baby get any smilier?

Mummy, I can neither confirm nor deny that I have been eating a stick...

Mummy, I can neither confirm nor deny that I have been eating a stick…

Tots in Tawhero

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Tots in Tawhero

Tots in Tawhero

Tots in Tawhero

Tots in Tawhero