Our First Days in New Zealand and the Auckland War Museum

Three-year-old Bria decided to start our first full day in New Zealand with kids at about 4:30 am — the clock is not on our side as we all make the adjustment to 17-hour time change and contend with the dreaded jet lag. In an attempt to keep things low key and let everyone adjust, we had a casual day, with a few interesting adventures thrown in for good measure.

Cameron and Maia made the choice to walk from the beach house to Gledstanes Road, but got lost along the way, and a search party was formed to explore the residential neighborhood that separates the houses. After about two hours of wrong turns and confused directions, they were found, and Justin walked the route (23 minutes) with them so they would know which way to go next time.

Kayaking at Stanmore Bay

Old friends of the family Ann and Eric McKenzie came for lunch and a catch-up, then they left and the rest of us headed to Stanmore Bay beach where Justin, Granddad, and the kids went for a paddle in the kayak. Bria enjoyed dragging her hand along in the water as Justin and Maia paddled.

Stanmore Bay beach is a beautiful stretch of sand connecting Vipond Strand to Stanmore Bay Park. Pohutakawa trees provide lovely shade at the picnic tables, making it an ideal setting for takeout. Pohutakawas are large green canopies, known as New Zealand Christmas Trees because their beautiful red flowers bloom around the holidays, and hang down in a way reminiscent of a Christmas decoration.

With its public boat launch and proximity to bus stops and plenty of parking, Stanmore Bay beach is an easily accessible area popular with locals. Everyone got a turn with the kayaks, including Cameron and Maia on their own. That was a lot of fun to watch, as they worked through coordinating their efforts to move the kayak across the water.

Plans for the evening were for the children to go to Gran and Grandad’s and us to have a potluck dinner with Justin and his brother Garth and a group of school friends of theirs. It was quiet, with talk of the old days and lots of theater members, and where everyone had been since. Kelly, Dale, and Garth joined Justin in solving the problems of the world over a few beers, and Kelly shared a lovely photo album of her first trip to Egypt.

Day in Te Awamutu

Saturday morning brought a family trip to Te Awamutu and visits with Gran’s side of the family. She had set a 9 a.m. departure time, and even with six people to run through the showers at her place (our beach house seems to have a fatal flaw – only enough hot water for one shower), we were close to on time.

We all piled into the van – me, Justin, Gran, Grandad, Uncle Garth, Cameron, Maia, Ella, and Bria – and headed south. With a stop to buy gifts and a stop for groceries, we arrived at Auntie Sue’s place in the country in good time. Cousin Jason’s wife Maria and their two little girls, Isabella (7) and Trixie (4) joined us for lunch and visiting, and the kids had a great time on the trampoline. Bria and Trixie became fast friends.

Next was a trek down the road to Uncle Paul and Auntie Dawn’s house, where they were hosting an engagement party for their middle daughter, Lisa, and her fiance Benji.

The kids were a little overwhelmed by all of the people around, but it was a good way to get to see and catch up with most of the Empson family all at once. They heard over and over how much they had grown (8 1/2 years will do that), and saw lots of people they had fun with when we came to New Zealand for our wedding. Maia took a photo with Lisa and her sisters Janette and Katherine, who were a trio of teenagers toting her around when last she saw them.

Cameron played ball with Janette’s six-year-old son Kaden, and all the kids went out to the paddock to see the sheep. Bria even rode on one, thanks to Grandad’s help.

We caught up with Nick and Ros, who are expecting their first grandbaby when Cousin Vicky and Mario welcome their first baby in Austria this December. We also got to spend time with Nan, who had a lovely time sharing her chocolate mousse with the littlest and posing for photos with the American great-grands.

We all piled in the van and pointed ourselves north at dark, complete with a pair of super wound up teenagers (Gran though maybe Cam’s three ginger beers were to blame). The children were starving by the time we hit Auckland, so we stopped at a food court and had Asian food. Maia was asleep before we even left the table, so we dropped the rest of the family off and called it a night.

One thing we are definitely finding about the time transition is that we are tired much earlier than we are used to at home! By about 8 p.m., the kids are done. We have decided the move from summer (long days) at home to winter (short days) here is contributing to that.

Auckland War Museum

Auckland War Museum

Other plans fell through for the next day, so we made a spur of the moment decision to explore the Auckland War Memorial Museum. What a great choice that was, and an excellent way to learn more about New Zealand with kids. There was plenty to see and explore for days, but we saw a huge amount in the one day we had to check it out.

Admission was very reasonable – a $10 suggested donation for adults, and kids free. The museum is free for Aucklanders, which is a great little feature. (Especially for homeschooling parents!)

Auckland War Museum

Lunch was at the Atrium Cafe inside the museum. Prices were pretty on par with any sort of tourist attraction, and the food was nice and Kiwi. Everyone tried something interesting, then it was off to explore all three levels.

First was a traveling display of National Geographic photographs, which our budding young photographer (Cameron) quite enjoyed. There were nature photos from all over the world, plus pictures taken by a variety of age groups. He loved that each one said what camera it was taken with, and shared settings, etc.

We saw the Maori court, and checked out all the carvings and canoes and all kinds of fun traditional things.

Next we saw all of the nature things on the second floor and the “weird and wonderful” display, which was an interactive display for the children to play with hands-on.

Auckland War Museum

On the third floor was the war memorial. Maia and Ella were very interested in the Holocaust exhibit, and Bria liked the telephones where you could pick up the receiver, push a button, and listen to a story.

Cameron really did not want to leave when it was time – he was really into taking photographs. But as the afternoon wore on and people were getting worn out, we headed back to the beach house for the evening.

Our first days have been full and memorable!

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