Book Review: Ivan and the Lighthouse

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Ivan and the Lighthouse – Grant Sheehan
Published by Phantom Tree House

Ivan is happy enough at Devonport School, but he finds it hard to concentrate, because through the classroom window he can see, gleaming in the harbour, Bean Rock Lighthouse, where his father is the keeper, and that’s where he really wants to be…

Ivan and the Lighthouse is a lovely story about a small boy who dreams of accompanying his father to work as a lighthouse keeper. It is set in 1910, and “loosely based” on real events, and while it doesn’t read as a history book, it gives a great perspective on a little slice of life in Auckland at the turn of last century.

The arrival of this book was very timely, as we’d just returned home from a school holiday road trip. Our first stop had been to The Catlins, where we walked to the lighthouse at Nugget Point. We’d spoken a lot about lighthouses while we were there, and Ivan and the Lighthouse served as a great reinforcer of the mini history lesson the boys had enjoyed (?!) while we were away.

It’s well-written and the illustrations by Rosalind Clark are gorgeous and very appealing. It’s wordier than your average picture book – aimed at the 5-7 year age group – my four-year-old enjoyed it as much as my six-year-old. They loved exploring the detail on each page, and the drama of a hawk in hunt, a grounded ship, hungry sharks and Halley’s Comet was right up their alley. Virtually every page was a little boys’ dream, with boats and animals of all sorts; the illustrations are mostly double-page, and alone tell an expressive and exciting story. Paired with rich and adventurous language, this is a story that will appeal again and again with each reading.

Thank you to the team at Phantom Tree House for our lovely review copy.

Family Fun: Monarch Cruise

If you ever visit Dunedin, you should book a cruise on the Monarch.

We were lucky enough to win a one-hour family voucher at a quiz night, and we had an amazing afternoon cruising the Otago Harbour, looking out for seals and albatross.

As you can see, those big, beautiful sea birds are great flirts.

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| An Autumn Holiday |

We took the boys on a mini holiday over ANZAC weekend.

We spent a day in Queenstown, watching boats, climbing trees, and buying wine.

We did our first whole-family walk up Mt Iron (the littlest one made it all the way to the top; the biggest faceplanted onto a rock and is now sporting an impressive black eye), scootered alongside Lake Wanaka, and climbed things we thought we couldn’t climb.

We recharged our batteries, ignored much of the outside world, enjoyed the autumn sunshine, and returned home feeling rather relaxed.

It was blissful.

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Easter 2016

Autumn in Central Otago is one of my most favourite times of the year. The Clutha River winds its way through the region, accompanied by lines of tall poplar trees that are slowly shedding their cloaks of green for capes of red and orange. It’s a stunning time of year to visit, and we are so very lucky to have a place to stay that is just over three hour’s drive from Dunedin.

We spent Easter in Wanaka, and it was unseasonably warm (hot, even), but predictably beautiful. We went with no plans, and spending a relaxed few days with my boys and my parents was just what my soul required. I didn’t check the internet once, we paid little heed to the clock, and we had a blast.

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My parents very kindly looked after the boys one morning when the hubs and I decided to climb Roy’s Peak, a 16km round trip just out of Wanaka. We started our climb around 7.30am, claimed the peak before 10am, and enjoyed a morning tea of fruit and cold sausages looking out over a bed of thick clouds. Sadly, this meant the views were obscured from three-quarters of the way up, but under the cloud bank, the views were breathtaking. As we descended, we met hundreds of others beginning their climbs, and even though we’d missed the views, we had to admit that having the peak to ourselves for a while was a good trade-off.

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We celebrated Tiny’s 6th birthday on Easter Monday, with playground visits, a fish-and-chip dinner, and a chocolate sponge made by my mum. He thought it was pretty special having a holiday on his birthday, and my parents thought it was pretty special spending the whole day with their grandson on his birthday.

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There and Back Again: road tripping in New Zealand

14 days, 2400 kilometres, two calm ferry rides, one horrible virus, one broken contact lens, and countless family memories.

Dunedin to Waverley and back again by car, with various side trips along the way.

What a way to spend the school holidays.

Dunedin – Kurow – Lake Tekapo – Christchurch – Blenheim – Waverley – Wellington – Hanmer Springs – Methven – Dunedin

Hakataramea Valley Hakataramea Valley Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo Lake Tekapo Lake Tekapo Kaikoura Fur seal, Kaikoura Moa Brewery, Blenheim Moa Brewery, Blenheim Virginia Lake, Wanganui Virginia Lake, Wanganui Virginia Lake, Wanganui Wellington Hanmer Springs Hanmer Springs Hanmer Springs Hanmer Springs Terrace Downs Terrace Downs

Only in New Zealand

Moeraki Moeraki Moeraki MoerakiOn Sunday morning, I was busily organising my family and my mother-in-law to leave for Moeraki, where we were meeting my sister-in-law and her fiancé for lunch at Fleurs Place. Fleurs is an amazing little seafood restaurant in this sleepy little village; fishing boats unload their catch directly at her door, and the food is simple and sublime.

When my mobile rang just after 10am, I thought it might be the restaurant asking us to change our booking. But it was Fleur herself, calling to ask if we happened to be driving up from Dunedin, and could stop by a local fish shop to bring her some live crayfish.

Such a kiwi thing to do, right? Both the request, and me responding like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like I’m called by the owner of a restaurant (a woman who rubs shoulders with celebrities on a regular basis, no less) all the time, asking for supplies. NBD, right?

Only in New Zealand.

Tales of {NZ} Travel: Dunedin {part one}

Tales of NZ TravelIt seems only right to end my New Zealand travel series here in Dunedin, my hometown. The lovely little city that I left in 2007, and returned to in 2010; the little city that sometimes drives me insane with its size, but is the only place I wanted to raise our children.

During the university year, the population of Dunedin is approximately 170,000. Around 50,000 of those people are students, so come summer holiday time, the streets are quieter and much less colourful. When we first arrived back, I would get quite frustrated at the lack of people, the lack of change, the lack of pace – coming from London, then the bustling cities of South America, Dunedin just felt sleepy and tiny. I remember overhearing two men discussing how “busy” town was one particular day, as I giggled about being able to weave and swerve without upsetting the pedestrian “flow”.

Signal Hill, Dunedin, New ZealandDunedin is a beautiful city, surrounded by hills, the harbour and beaches. Green spaces abound, with many walking tracks in close proximity to the town centre. In saying that, nothing is much further than 15 minutes from town; the airport is the exception, but even this is only 20-30 minutes away.

There is something in Dunedin for every kind of tourist. Beaches for surfy types, museums and galleries for arty types, op shops and design stores for fashionable types. There are so many things to do with children of all ages, meaning we are not often at a loss as to what to do or where to go. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to exceptional cafés, restaurants and bars, and there’s a great coffee culture which has emerged in recent years.

To be continued…

Tales of {NZ} Travel: South Canterbury & North Otago

Tales of NZ TravelI haven’t spent a lot of time in South Canterbury or North Otago; usually we have only passed through on our way to somewhere else. In saying that, I was born in Timaru, and did spend a weekend there with my family as a teenager once.

Timaru
Caroline Bay is a great place for a coastal picnic, with a playground and a pretty rose garden to wander through. The museum has some cool fossils and Maori rock art, and Timaru’s green spaces are plentiful.

Waimate
There are wallabies in Waimate. Wild ones, even. Crazy.

Oamaru
The historic Victorian quarter is really pretty and nice to explore on foot on a sunny day. Just north of the township is Riverstone Kitchen, a fantastic café/restaurant with quirky gift shops and a great space for kids to let off some steam. Whitestone Cheese is definitely worth stopping at – their Vintage Windsor Blue is divine.

The Waitaki Valley
Stop to see Maori rock art, take pictures of Lake Aviemore and Lake Benmore (the colour of the water is sublime), or stop at Pasquale to try their supreme pinot noir. There are places to fish and swim, and during the summer, this whole area is a popular camping spot.

Moeraki
Famous for two main things: boulders (featured above) and Fleurs Place. The former are a spectacular sight on the coast, massive stones that used to be part of the sea floor millions of years ago (although I like the Maori legend that the boulders are remains of baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe that bought the Ngai Tahu to the South Island was wrecked at nearby Shag Point.). The latter is a popular and highly-regarded café in the township, serving the freshest and most simply-cooked fish imaginable. Rick Stein and Gwyneth Paltrow are counted amongst Fleur’s famous fans.

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Tales of {NZ} Travel: Christchurch

Tales of NZ TravelI’m torn. Torn between writing about the Christchurch I knew before, and writing about the Christchurch I know after. Torn between focusing on what was, or focusing on what is and could be in this broken, but slowly, slowly healing, city – our Garden City.

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So I’m going to do both. I’m going to tell you about things I loved when I first visited (as an adult; you don’t really want to hear about my experiences as a 10-year-old, swimming at the then-new QEII aquatic centre and eating McDonald’s for the first time…I got a Birdy toothbrush in my Happy Meal!!!), and things that I loved when I last visited, after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

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I used to love walking through Cathedral Square, shopping for fudge at the Arts Centre and looking through market stalls in the centre of the city. ChristChurch Cathedral was a beautiful building, iconic and striking, and it broke many hearts when it was badly damaged in February 2011. However (and I don’t wish to offend or upset anyone here, so please, please forgive me if I inadvertently do), the Transitional Cardboard Cathedral is also a beautiful striking building, in a completely different way, and I think it reflects the changes the city has been forced to embrace. And perhaps the next building will be better in more ways than we can possibly imagine.

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Tall, Tiny and I spent time wandering around Re:START Mall, the container mall in January 2012, and it was fantastic. Bustling, colourful and full of hope, each container was unique and made for a special shopping experience. Many of the main shopping areas in the central city were still closed off at this stage, but being able to shop at the same time as see many of the damaged buildings was a sobering experience.

My first experience of a zoo couldn’t have been better than open-range Orana Park. I have fond memories of feeding and patting a giraffe, and being surprised at how they felt like a short-haired dog – I’d expected them to be velvety-soft.

A great place for a walk or a run, Hagley Park always reminds me of a mini (very mini!) Central or Hyde Park. It’s green and pretty, and always busy. There’s nothing nicer than strolling along the banks of the Avon River, too.

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Good coffee is to be found at the Addington Coffee Co-op, while C1 Espresso does a pretty mean eggs Benedict, and has some of the coolest, quirkiest stuff to be found in a café. Special mention must go to The Make Café, a crafter’s paradise serving good food and coffee to satisfy the stomach, and beautiful fabrics and crafty goodies to satisfy the soul. I got to spend lots of time at the two latter cafés last year when I attended Around the Table and met some of my favourite and bestest blogging friends.

AngeMeghanMelissa MeghanAnge      For a long time, Christchurch will continue to be a work in progress, and I admire everyone who is endeavouring to make it better, brighter and more beautiful than ever before xoxo