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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.

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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.

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Entrance to the beautiful Chinese garden

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Thanks Hawera!

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Things to do in Whanganui with kids: Paloma Gardens

25 minutes out of Whanganui lies a not-so-wee gem that is perfect to explore with your kids for a day: Paloma Gardens.

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A private garden that has been a labour of love for Clive and Nicki Higgie – who are sort of like rock stars in the botanical world – Paloma Gardens boasts a staggering collection of plants and trees from all over the world, and countless fine examples of New Zealand flora.  Paloma Gardens can be found on Pohutukawa Lane, just past Fordell.

There is an entrance fee – $10 for adults, and children under 15 are free.  Compared with similar gardens I have visited overseas, I think this price is a bargain.  You really could explore this place at your leisure all day, it’s that big.

There are wonderful sculptures all around the garden, such as this:

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And this:

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And there is even a sculpture walk:

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(This bit is probably not the best for rambunctious toddlers who want to touch the precious sculptures, but there is plenty of garden left to explore.)

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The garden beckons

Paloma Gardens has many parts to it: the Desert House, the Palm Garden, the Garden of Death, a wedding lawn (they host many weddings here), a labyrinth, a lake and much, much more.  The plants and trees are incredible, and there are delightfully quirky touches all over the gardens.  It’s obvious that the owners have an irreverent sense of humour.

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I loved it.

My tots had a brilliant time exploring the wonders of the garden:

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We inadvertently took a wrong turn on our way to the lake and ended up taking a rather long hike.  The climb back up the hill from the lake is very steep, just FYI.  My two were knackered from all the hill climbing and exploring, so we didn’t get to see all the gardens before they needed to head home for a nap.  Parts of the gardens are buggy accessible, but if you have a wee one you’d be better off with a front/back pack.  Due to the gardens being situated on a very hilly site, only parts of Paloma Gardens are wheelchair accessible.

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We’re already planning our next visit.

Thanks Clive and Nicki!

 

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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