Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wow! It just seems like yesterday that Kathy, the girls and I were being picked up at the airport in Auckland by Scott. A person we had never met and yet who was willing to drive 4 hours to make sure we got to Whangarei safely. Thank God that he did!

Kathy and I were a little nervous to leave with two young children and be away from family and friends. That changed very quickly upon our arrival to Whangarei. The guys at the fire station and their families were extremely supportive and helped greatly in the transition. Not to forget all of Fraser and Sarah's friends and family who also made us feel like we were part their families. If it wasn't for all their help to find us toys, beds, high-chair and all the odds and ends, to dropping by for a coffee to check-up on us, we would have probably taken much longer to settle in. Kathy and I thank everyone who helped us in every way. You all know who you are:)

When I look back, my first day at work was quite nerve racking. It was just like being the rookie all over again. Standing there, in parade, knowing you're the NEW KID on the block, not knowing anyone really. That day, as it turned out, was one of my fondest. Why you ask? Well, to start, I had just been told that they weren't really busy when a call came in and I heard over the P.A. that we were responding to a house fire. Then, I was told that they cooked their own meals but didn't quite catch that only meant the night shift. So you can imagine the looks I got when lunch time rolled around and I had nothing to eat. Luckily Tommo had enough to share:) I learned that lesson quick.

Over the last 12 months I have had the opportunity to work with all the guys, a great group of guys, and have enjoyed the experience tremendously. Ottawa doesn't allow that to happen, it's just to large. However it's still nice to see that no matter where you work the job is the same - same old games, same jokes and the same level of dedication to the job. I'm going to miss that tight family-like atmosphere both on and off duty in Whangarei.

With work comes time off. Kathy, Mackenzie, Breeana and I took full advantage of where we were and explored this great country and many of its neighbours. We weren't always alone and this made these excursions all the more interesting and memorable. We are hoping some day that we can be the tour guides when all you kiwis come and visit Ottawa. Sounds good? Kathy and I hope so.

We also appreciated how family and friends made their pilgrimage to visit. It was interesting to get their take on life in New Zealand and also to be able to tour around with them. Every time we had visitors it made us appreciate that much more our time here.

When we arrived Mackenzie's spoke 10 words. As we prepare to leave and head home, we now can carry entire conversations with her. WOW! She has grown so much. Our little girl who wouldn't leave mommy's side is now bubbling with excitement and curiosity leaving Kathy and I chasing her all over the place.

Breeana was just 9 weeks old when she landed in New Zealand. Over the last 12 months the changes she has gone through are nothing short of amazing. She's gone from discovering her toes, cutting her first tooth, rolling over, to calling for mom and eating on her own. Breeana can now walk by herself and answer the phone (her own phone when ours rings) She has outgrown her clothes and is now going through her sister's hand me downs. Our little baby is pushing her way into toddler life and this just confirms that our year is up.

This exchange program is really an amazing opportunity. We truly recommend it to everyone and anyone who is thinking of doing it. Just give it a whirl! It has enriched our lives in so many ways!

During the planning stages of this exchange, it never crossed our minds how difficult it would be to leave. We’ve become so attached to Fraser & Sarah's families and friends; we’ve embraced the “New Zealand” way of life and we will bring that home with us. We leave New Zealand with a VERY heavy heart.

So please keep your promises and come explore and visit Canada as soon as possible. Know that our home will always be open to you.

The Quinn's are off and we wish you all the best!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Our last couple of weeks...

As we approach our departure date, we've definately felt the urge to do a "farewell" tour. See our favourite places, visit with our favourite people, all in hopes to edge it into our memory so that it lasts forever.

So we've been back to Auckland to catch a rugby match and do some last minute shopping. We've toured some of our favourite beaches and spent some quality time with friends. Here are a few pics...

Still lots to do before we leave, people to see and things to pack. Can't believe that we leave in a week...

Monday, July 6, 2009

NZ Fire Service Honours Night

No sooner did we open the door and unpack, I was off running around looking for a dress uniform. The reason being was that the lads at the station were having an awards night to acknowledge their accomplishments within the fire service and to wish Ray and I and our families farewell.

A regular suit was no good because they were having formal fire brigade photos taken. Since both Ray and I were part of the station this past year, they wanted us in a dress uniform. Thanks to all the guys, I managed to pull together a formal uniform. The only thing that belonged to me that night were my socks and my underwear!

After the pictures were taken we headed off to the social hall up stairs where we enjoyed drinks and snacks. After that we took our seats and the speeches commenced. Apparently it had been a long time since the last ceremomy had been held since they ackowledged a total of +700 years of service.

Seeing all the guys dressed up and wearing their medals was quite a sight. I was sort of wishing Ottawa would take the same stance for their guys, not just the lads with 20 + years but rather even the guys with 3 years. It really has a great effect on the moral of the brigade.

When the last guy received his award they took a little break, during which time the refreshments and food were served. A short while later Ray and I were called to the front with our wives. The NZ Fire Service presented all of us with very generous gifts. A plaque commemorating the year service, an official All Blacks rugby jersey and a beautiful greenstone necklace for Kathy and Ray's wife Linda. WE were deaply touched.

It was the perfect time for all of us to express our sincere thanks. Not just for giving us the opportunity to be here but also for welcoming and treating us like family and for helping us out throughout our entire stay. So we did.

Thanks again lads and to those of you on blue watch - YOU ROCK!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

We are back...

Who ever said that cruising can't be memorable?? Not this family that's for sure. After 21 days on board the Pacific Sun, 9 spectacular ports and only 2 nights of rocking-n-rolling seas, we would leave in a heart beat and doing it all over again. The itinerary and mostly the crew made this an unforgettable holiday!

After departing from Aukland NZ, we would spend the first few days at sea and have ample opportunity to discover every nock and cranny of the Pacific Sun and sample some fine dinning. So we did! We ate, walked and danced. We ate, walked and danced, we ate, walked, danced and ate some more:)

After sampling the buffet restaurant on the first day, we decided to take advantage of the sit-down restaurants and enjoy some pampering. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we could have made. As we looked over the menu for that night, our waiter came over to see if we were ready to order, his name was Herbert. After asking him for some bread, a bowl, some hot water, 2 teaspoons, some plastic cups and some spare napkins we thought he would never want to wait on us again.
Too much work.... all you parents out there understand right?!?!?

Well, Herbert and Orix (the assistant waiter) rose to the occasion and were wonderful. We were pampered. Not only did they make sure that our glasses were always full, that our meal was perfect and that we had everything we needed, they also found time to entertain/distract the girls so that mom and dad could enjoy their meal. How wonderful... well it's gets even better... Hurbert and Orix suggested we reserve the table for the rest of the cruise. So we did!

This guaranteed that we would always have them as our waiter. It gave Mackenzie and Breeana some sense of a routine as they always saw their friends Herbert and Orix for every meal. And so it went.

Over the next 18 days Mackenzie and Breeana got quite attached to Herbert, Orix, Ryan, Kirby, Digna, Jenedine, Cristine, Jose, Noel and several others. Almost every night someone would do a card trick, make a paper animal, blow-up a balloon, or take the girls for a tour around the restaurant. Little did we realize how our first dinner would impact our entire cruise.

Afterwards most dinner meals we would wander around the ship before bedtime and find some music. Mackenzie always wanted to find some music so that she could make her way onto the dance floor to bust a move. With an audience of about 50 all three girls and dad would dance the evenings away.

Not only did the crew take an instant liking to the girls but it also seemed as though they found a warm place in many of the passengers hearts. Many crew have been away from their families and children for many months and many of the passengers missed their own grand children. Mackenzie and Breeana were happy to be their surrogates! They both waved and smiled to everyone eager to meet new people.

As we sailed North to warmer weather, we soon arrived at our first port of call - Vava'u, Republic of Tonga. This was a great introduction to the Pacific islands. Aqua green waters surrounded by the dark Pacific ocean. Sailboats and yacht everywhere. Warm and kind people. Island life! Reminiscent of Jamaica!

Little did we know that the best was yet to come! Over the next 17 days we would make our way to some of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific: Rarotonga (Cook islands), Raiatea, Papeete, Moorea, Bora Bora (French Polynesia-Tahiti), Apia (Samoa), Savu Savu, Suva (Fiji), and Tin Can Island.

Our favourites were Rarotonga, Moorea, and Bora Bora. All of these places are heavenly. We will travel to them again. They are just spectacular. Unfortunately, our pictures don't let you see the real beauty.

Rarotonga because is gave you spectacular beaches, views without the high prices of Tahiti.

Moorea was special because we were able to hook-up with a friend of a friend. Karim who was so generous. He spent the day with us and took us around the entire island. It was really nice to have him show us around and tell about Moorea and Tahiti.

Bora Bora. Do we need to say more. It is even more beautiful in person than all of the pictures we see in the brochures. This was a fantastic day. We spent it at the Intercontinental Resort located on one of the most scenic beaches and lagoons that Bora Bora has to offer. After enjoying a complete chef's breakfast buffet, we would take turns swimming in the pool, the lagoon, walking out to the huts or simply layout out in the sun. A totally relaxing day. Definitely a place that we will visit again. Of course only after we have seen our first 50 countries before we are 50:) Only 27 to go now....

In addition to all of this - great food, great crew, great people, great destinations - this trip was even more special because Breeana celebrated her 1st Birthday. Can you believe that in her first 12 months of life, she has visited 8 countries!!!! It worked out perfect because we celebrated her birthday while we had a day at sea. All of the crew and our dinner neighbours helped make her day special since family couldn't be with us. We took lots of pictures but videotaped even more so that all of the grand parents could see it when we come home.

As we made our way back South again to colder weather, we approached New Zealand with a heavy heart and a smile. A heavy heart because our travel adventures to this part of the world will soon come to an end; but a smile because we will soon make our way back to Canada to be close to our family and friends.

Raiatea - Tahiti

Papeete - Tahiti

Apia - Samoa

Monday, June 1, 2009

A taste from home.

This past month was simply wonderful. It all started with Tom and Louise (Michael's dad and wife) arriving at the beginning of the month. How excited we were to see them in person. Mackenzie and Breeana were especially tickled pink - how cool to touch them and not only see them on skype. While "skype" has done wonders to help us keep in touch with everyone, nothing compares to being able to hug and kiss the ones you love. We are sure looking forward to seeing everyone when we get home!

When they finally arrived (jet lagged and all), and after all the kisses and the hugs were done, they spoiled us with some of our favourite treats from home. They opened a suitcase filled with treats. There were bags of "fresh" oreo cookies for Kathy, containers of maple syrup for Michael, and books and other treats for the girls. It was just like being at camp and receiving a care package. We were all very excited!

Tom and Lou had given us strict orders not to book their social calendar. They wanted to spend time with us and save the touring for their trip to the South island. So we did. We spent everyday together talking about everything and anything while overlooking McCleod's Bay or visiting Whangarei. The view from their bach was simply amazing. Thanks to Scott and Tanya, Tom & Lou rented a beautiful four bedroom house at the Whangarei Heads. You could see the Heads from the kitchen window and the ocean from the family room window! Just spectacular views! Wait until you see all of the beautiful sunsets or all of the spectacular rainbows we got see. Just simply amazing!

Once they mastered the art of driving again :), they visited several of our favourite places: Ocean's beach, Pataua Beach, Waipu, the Whangarei falls, the Town Basin to name a few, including a few of the local golf courses. Next thing you know, it was time for them to head off on their South island adventure.

Upon their return, it was great to reminisce and compare notes of our respective favourite places on the South island. It was like visiting everything all over again. For those of you who have toured around the South island, you will surely agree that this is one place in the world that you wouldn't mind visiting several times in a lifetime.

The last few days were spent dotting on the grand-kids. Mackenzie and Breeana showed off their new tricks. Mackenzie mastering her new dance moves (all in preparation for Matt & Andrea's wedding of course) and Breeana joyfully waving and blowing her big kisses.

Next thing you knew Tom and Lou were weighing their suitcases to see how much of our stuff they could bring back for us. Lucky for us they had brought large suitcases:) It was really hard to say goodbye eventhough we will be home about 10 weeks. Having Tom and Lou here reminded us once again of how fortunate we are to be experiencing this unique opportunity.

Sooooo, we are off again on a 21 day cruise around the Pacific islands where we will visit the Cook islands, French Polynesia, Fiji, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia to name a few. We can't wait!!!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

From Bali to Sydney and then home...

Our depature from Bali was at a horrible time. We flew out at midnight, to arrive in Sydney at 8:00 am local time (6:00 am Bali time). Surprisingly, the girls faired really well despite the constant sleep disruptions. However, when we finally arrived at our hotel, everyone was really tired. So we all had a long nap. This meant that we lost a better part of our first day to sleep deprivation.

When we finally ventured out, it was much cooler than Bali. Thankfully we had packed some warmer clothes. We immediately set out for Darling Harbour. We took the monorail and walked around looking for some "comfort" food, which we quickly found. Our first impressions were: "Wow, this is pretty cool!" There is something to be said about seeing the Sydney Opera House as the backdrop to the Harbour bridge in person. It is such a Sydney icon. We still remember watching the firework display during the Olympics on television and saying one day we will see it live!

On our second day, we started off early and jumped on the hop-on, hop-off bus, which Mackenzie loved. We felt that this would be the most efficient way to get a bird's eye view of the city given our limited time. So we rode the bus for a while and then started visiting the city. Our stops included the Opera House, Circular Quay, The Rocks, Kings Cross George Street, The Opera House, Hyde Park, Sydney Aquarium, just to name a few. We covered a lot of ground. The girls were awesome. They were more than happy to hop-on and off the bus throughout the day.

Unfortunately, on our third day, the weather wasn't the greatest so we were told not to bother with visiting the Blue Mountains. We would have seen only fog. So instead, we rode the ferry around the harbour and went to the Zoo, which happens to offer some of the most spectalcular views of Sydney. The girls loved the Zoo and so did mom & dad.

Next thing you know we had to pack and leave the next day.

We definately saw enough of Sydney to know that we want to come back.

What a great holiday! Scott, Tanya, thanks for encouraging us to do this trip!
We really enjoyed it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From Melbourne to Bali

What can we say about Bali... We really enjoyed Bali. We had not travelled to Asia yet. This was definitely a great introduction. For those of you who have been, this should make sense. It is a place that we would characterize as "organized chaos, transcended by tranquility"!

For example, driving is crazy. There appears to be no rules, except, whoever goes or gets there first has the right of way. We thought driving in Italy was crazy! Picture yourself at a stop light, surrounded by as many cars, vans, scooters and trucks that can be jammed in all at once. The only thing stopping them from going to 15 lanes of traffic is a cliff or ditch. The light turns green and off they all go. Just like Formula 1 racing, all vying to be at the front of the pack. The really odd thing is that we didn't encounter ANY road range or accidents. NONE.

The Balinese are very humble, kind and gentle people. They treated Mackenzie and Breeana like little princesses. Everywhere we went, whether it be shops, restaurants, boutiques or whether is was while we were sightseeing, the Balinese would always touch them and want to hold them. Mackenzie and Breeana were a little puzzled in the beginning but after a few days they were waving and smiling at everyone and actually enjoying the attention.

The weather was very hot and humid. Everyone had told us that it would be hot, but we hadn't figured that it would be that hot and humid. It was just like that crazy hot summer day we had in Ottawa almost 3 years ago when the temperature hit 45C. It was just like that everyday. Thank God for the pool and air conditioning!

The resort where we stayed was great. The accommodations were small 2 storey villas that could accommodate 2 families. Nice and quiet. So we thought...

It was our first night in Bali, and all through the villa, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, EXCEPT for the rain drops dripping on Michael's head at 4:30 am! That's right, the roof was leaking. It wasn't funny at 4:30 am but we can laugh about it now... A good thing came out of this: we got upgraded to a larger villa.

On our second night, Breeana decided that she wasn't going to sleep. So on our second night in Bali, and all through the villa, not a creature was sleeping, not even a mouse. We were frantic and worried that Breeana was keeping the entire complex awake. Michael had the genius idea to drop her in the pram and walk the entire resort, which he did. Mackenzie, mom and the neighbours finally got some sleep. That morning, we felt so bad that we went to see our neighbours upstairs to apologize. Turns out that they couldn't hear a thing. We were lucky in our misfortune again, we met a wonderful family from Melbourne - The Gardiners: Jason, Rachel, Jessica and Abbey. We would hooked up with them daily by the pool to plan our itinerary, trade shopping strategies, or simply soak in the pool. They were awesome. They contributed to making our holiday that much more memorable. Breeana and Mackenzie loved playing with Abbey and Jessica. Hopefully our girls will turn our a lovely as Abbey and Jessica.

We would usually do a day of travelling and sightseeing and a day by the pool. Mackenzie and Breeana totally grasped the concept of lounging around the pool. They both enjoyed the water and didn't mind being in it all day. Bonus for Mom and Dad.

Some of our sightseeing excursions took us to Mount Batur, to Lake Batur, several villages including Kintamani, Ubud, Sanur, Sebat, Tegallalang, Pujung, Taro and Batuan. We saw rice fields, hundreds of temples, lush green landscapes, bamboo forests, markets, and a volcano. We also visited typical Balinese homes, saw how they hand-make silver jewelery, wood carvings, furniture, pottery, paintings, etc. We didn't realize how labour intensive rice cultivation is or how talented craftsmen the Balinese are. Everything is done by hand.

One of our favourite excursions was to Taro, where we went to the elephant safari park to ride the elephants. We had a great time! Mackenzie and Breeana were very curious. Both looked at the elephants in amazement, as did Mom and Dad. After viewing several elephants and taking photos we mounted our elephants for our hour long tour through the forest. It was magical. Michael and Mackenzie didn't appreciate their elephant deciding to go off into the forest for a snack but their guide (matou) was able to reign the elephant back in line. It's one thing to have your horse head off but very different when it's your elephant. The tour concluded with a bath and a drink in the LARGE waiting pool. The water goes up to your legs as the elephant submerses itself to cool off and get a drink. Something we will remember for a long time.

We can't talk about Bali without talking about the shopping and the bartering. The first couple of days that we were there we had to stand back and observe. There is so much stuff to choose from. From Louis Vuitton to hand made crafts in the market. It's just like Disney. Something for everyone. The fun part is that you had to barter (just like in Mexico) for your price. Lucky for us, Jason was an experienced negotiator. He took no prisoners and taught Michael how to go in for the kill! So we got sunglasses for 5$, DVDs for 1$, clothing for 3$. It was Christmas all over again.

Unfortunately for us, we had to be very selective in what we bought since it will have to travel all the way back to Canada. So we limited ourselves to purchasing, togs (swimming stuff), jewelery, sunglasses, clothes, pottery, DVDs, paintings and cushions covers. We could have bought so much more, including furniture! Darn luggage allowance. Does anyone want to share a container with us to ship stuff back???

We can't beleive that we almost forgot to write about the spa treatments or the food. Kathy got a full body 1hour massage everyday for the costly price of 10$ and a pedicure/manicure every other day for 6$. She is still experiencing spa withdrawal!

We ate like kings, indulging on great sea food and satay meals. They included dinner on the beach a couple of times watching the sunset and some meals tucked away at an oasis.

It seems really odd to talk about a holiday since we are in New Zealand but it was sure nice to get away for the daily routine and have someone else cook, clean and do our laundry for us.

Bali, we will come and visit again!