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Today I went ZORBING! I've been wanting to do this for a large portion of my life, probably since I was ten or twelve. I mean, who wouldn't want to be rolled down a hill like a gerbil in a giant plastic ball? Essentially that's what Zorbing is. They strapped me down kind of like DaVinci's  human anatomy picture, hands and legs apart, body in the centre. I got rolled down the hill, heals over head, doing backfilps and cartwheels and gyroscoping until i hit the bottom. On my second go, I chose to have some water added to the fun, and I also chose not to be strapped in this time. I went in free fall on a zig zag track and felt myself being tumbled around inside my globe, getting so much momentum that I was sometimes scooped up to the top and thrown down with a splash. This was easily the highlight of an amazing visit to New Zealand.
Birch

 
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  Most of our trip was spent following the coast in the Northland province (north of Auckland) and then the eastern coast down to Napier. After visiting Napier we spent the last three days driving up the middle of the North Island as we headed back towards Auckland. This part of New Zealand, the Rotorua and Tapau region, is famous for its hot springs and volcanic activity. We had an excellent time touring the geothermal areas and soaking in the local hot springs.
  Here's an interesting fact: 8% of New Zealand's electricity is from geothermal generation from this area. The majority of their electricity comes from. . .
   

 
Here is an interesting piece of recent New Zealand trivia that we came across.  Shrek is a sheep that was found surviving in the wild for 5 years and became a national celebrity.  He has since died in the summer of 2011.  Take a look.  Enjoy
 
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We arrived in Gisborne which is part of the North Island's Eastern province.  In order to get there we decided to take the faster route and cut through the "gorge" rather than follow the seaside around a peninsula (time, time, time).  Turning off and heading towards the mountains, ominous dark clouds lay ahead.  The drive itself was yet again spectacluar.  The twisting, winding roads followed a mountain river as we climbed up and over the pass.  When we arrived in Gisborne it was overcast and threatening but not raining. 
   Gisborne is the first major town to start a new day.  When it is 7:00am on October 28th in Gisborne then it is 11:00am on October 27th in Vancouver. So Gisborne is the first town to. . . 

 
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New Zealand, a country of endless coastline, beautiful green rolling hills, winding roads and one lane bridges!!  Yes one lane bridges.  These one lane bridges are found throughout the Northland and anywhere outside of Auckland.  For me these bridges are quite the novelty.  It seems as if every crossing outside of Auckland has these one lane bridges that are just wide enough for their large transport trucks.  As we drive along the winding roads and take in the fairy tale scenery you will see your common traffic signs; speed limit, steep grade, sharp turn ahead and YIELD RIGHT OF . . .

 
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New Zealand
October 22nd
We went back to Ninety Mile Beach and it turns out that the first time we were there it was HIGH TIDE! So now the size of the beach had tripled. I had so much fun playing in the waves and sliding on the dunes but Mom was asleep and Allegra didn't go too far because she said it was too cold. Getting tossed around in the waves was fun for a little while, but even with Dad there with me, it got boring fast. After we left Ninety Mile Beach, we came to this lookout where we could park our van. While Dad made dinner, Mom, Allegra and I went for a walk and found the most vibrant and diverse place I have seen in my life. On one hillside, there was a sandstone outlook that allowed us to see a huge array of plants of all shapes and sizes and a little trail leading down to a a bay of sugar white sand  surrounded by a mass of volcanic rock with archways and a blowhole.  Incredible!

Birch

 
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New Zealand
October 21st
Today we went for a hike along the shore of the Bay of Islands. We started in a town called Opua, and there is a little trail dug into the red clay, and the water was a beautiful turquoise, almost cyan. We walked along the trail until we found this beautiful spot where we sat down and just enjoyed the sun. I was the only one who went swimming because i was the only one who was smart enough to wear my board shorts. When we got back from our hike, we drove until we had made it to Ninety Mile Beach. the stretch of white sand went on for so long in both  directions that it disappeared into the horizon.  Allegra and I had so much fun sliding down the sand dunes and running back up and sliding back down again. It was dark by the time we got back to our van and we went right to sleep. We are going back to the beach tomorrow
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Birch


 
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Yesterday evening we arrived at Ninety Mile Beach, which is a stretch of sandy beach on the northern tip of New Zealand.  I drove to the end of the gravel road and it stops at the beach with two steep rocky spurs offering the driver to go north or south.  Seeing how steep and jagged the ramp was, I decided it wasn't the wisest move to try and negotiate this with our Toyota camper van called the Jucy "Condo" and Carolyn also encourages me to park the van.
Intelligently, I turn around and park behind the enormous sand dunes and we get out and . . .

 
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We have started our first day of our journey.  If this first day is any indication of how our trip will unfold, we are extremely fortunate, since everything has gone quite smoothly.  We all woke up at 4:30am with a knock on the door by my mom Rosina and about a minute later all our alarm clocks went off.   As I climbed out of bed, the phone rings and it's our taxi driver confirming the address and letting us know he will be there in 15 minutes.   With hugs all around we say our goodbyes and the first step of our journey has begun!!

We have received such positive feedback from the Air Canada check in clerk and the the US Customs official.  When we mention that we are travelling for 8 months with our family, their eyes light up with comments like  "good for you"   "that's a trip of a lifetime" and "what will you do with the kids schooling?"
All is good and I am grateful.
John


 
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My Dad, Paolo, preparing some home-made gnocchi.
John

Here we are enjoying the "Last Supper" before we embark on our journey.
From left to right: Rosina (my mom), Birch, Paolo (my dad), Allegra and Carolyn

John