Saturday, February 8, 2014

Life on the Island of Wine

I spent the past month living on what is often called "The Island Of Wine." I'm not entirely sure how I managed to tear myself away because this place is paradise. I've obviously been living on an island since October, but starting the first week of January, I moved to an even smaller island called Waiheke, off the coast Auckland. And my time here as been fantastic--insanely busy--and ultimately wonderful.
The gold star is where I was living.

 I came here knowing I would stay for just a month. I found a family to Au Pair; they needed someone to help look after their kids because they were about to open up a gelato, coffee and bagel business. The first two weeks I was here were pretty "normal:" the parents would work during the day and be home in the evenings. During the day, I'd take the kids to the beach, or friends house or whatever we got up to different days. And I'd get some time off and go exploring (wine tasting) around the island.

But the last two weeks were absolutely insane. I worked 72 hours looking after the kids in the 3rd week, and almost the same number of hours this last week I was there. I'll be honest, I started to go just a little bit crazy.

I'm not sure if looking after someone else's kids all day every day is harder than looking after your own, but I can tell you it is quite difficult. The kids were pretty good, but I don't think there's any way looking after a 3 year old for +12 hours a day isn't going to be exhausting.

Meanwhile, the family did get their business started with a bang. The gelato was an instant success on the island. They sell out of it almost every day. So most of the days I get to take the kids by and get a free scoop of some gelato that actually lives up to my incredibly high Italy standards. So that doesn't suck.
White Chocolate Salted Caramel and Hazelnut Chocolate.

The island is incredibly friendly. It's Manhattan, KS friendly. I've taken the late bus home a few times and without fail the drivers, instead of making me walk 20 minutes up hill, drive out of their way to drop me off outside my house. And, amazingly, it's a safe place to hitch hike. I did it once (with a friend mom, it was safe, don't freak out). We grabbed a ride from my house to the bottom of the hill and then another one in to town. It was actually quite fun. We had nice chats with the people giving us rides. I might have done it a bit more but I generally had a car at my disposal.

When I did actually get a few hours off, I spent most of my time moving from vineyard to vineyard. Waiheke is a great place to grow wine, especially red wine. Waiheke is internationally known for the Rosé, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Wineries on the island routinely win "Best wine in world" for their Syrah and Sauv Blanc.

I have taken it upon myself to sample almost all of these, so I can personally assure you, they are all quite good.

I managed to get to pretty much all the large vineyards where on the island. There are a ton more smaller ones, but my days off were limited and I tried to go with the quality over quantity approach. So I'd go to a vineyard or two a day and just enjoy the time there and then go relax on the beach.

I've made a map highlighting the vineyards I went to. I could spend a lot of time telling you about all of them but I won't because that would only be interesting for me probably.

The yellow colored dot was the first vineyard I went to called Mudbrick. It definitely has the most Tuscan feel to it and would be where I had my wedding reception if I had an infinite amount of money. The views were simply stunning. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera that day, so I don't have any pictures to prove it!

I took a bike trip to the orange dot, called Kennedy Vineyards. They're the only all organic vineyard on Waiheke. It was a really friendly place, and it was comforting to know I wasn't drinking pesticides. I also didn't know that most places add things like milk, egg and gelatin among others were routinely added to wines. This place was so good I went back twice!

This was definitely an unusual color for Rosé but I think
it was the lack of additives. It still tasted quite good.

With a view like this, how can you not go back?

The purple dot is a place called Wild on Waiheke. It's actually a brewery and a vineyard, so it's perfect if you need a break from wine! But let's be honest, why would you? Also, they let you do things like archery and trap shooting because what mixes better with alcohol than that?

Right next to it is StoneyRidge vineyards where I think I had some of my favorite wines. Their Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style were some of my favorites. If they didn't sell for around $50 a bottle, I would definitely have gotten a few.
There were some great wines here, but lets be real, after drinking all of this, they all start tasting pretty great. Also, if you're concerned, I didn't drink all these myself. I had help. 

There are so many more awesome vineyards I could talk about, but the main point is that I drank some nice wines.

And the only things that can beat the wine are the views. Waiheke is beautiful and a really fun place. It attracts a lot of unique people too. People here are generally very creative, relaxed, fun and fairly wealthy. It makes for a really fun atmosphere!

The place is crawling with beaches as well, but rather than tell you about them, I think pictures will serve much better.

This is the biggest beach on the island called Onetangi. Two Maori tribes fought a battle here. "One" means beach
and "Tangi" means something like "funeral" or "sadness" or "weeping"

While not a beach, this is the view from my drive way of a vineyard. Seriously. 

It's rare that I see a sunset that beats near-daily stunning views of the Flint Hills, but if you look the other way out of the drive way at sunset, you'll occasionally see this.

Life is good on the island of wine. I was definitely sad to leave, but I am very excited to see the rest of New Zealand. I am finally leaving on my tour of the country in just a few days.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


It happened.

I didn't think it was going to happen. I almost didn't even realize when it did.

I'm not sure how I feel about, but I don't actually think it's a bad thing; it was just surprising for me.

I'll give you a little background on why I feel this way first. Unless you've actually never met me, you know that I am interested in and care about language.  I wrote a whole blog post about Kiwi language actually. So it's safe to say, I usually put a reasonable amount of thought into not only what I say but how I say it.

In general, I stick to American slang. I don't say "heaps" or "sweet as" too often because it feels hokey. I do find it's easier to say "togs" and call it the "boot" around the kids because they don't know what a trunk is. But it's always a very conscious usage on my part.

One language usage here that struck me as a little funny was how all food here is described as "nice" instead of "good." Ex: I ate a nice apple. Or the chicken at dinner was nice.

Even though the meaning was perfectly clear, I amused myself imaging an overly polite and well-mannered chicken at the dinner table. I don't think I'd ever heard anyone describe food that way or done it myself. Nice was always reserved for people in my book. So I just kept on saying the food was good and tried to stop personifying food in my head.

I even pretty much stopped noticing such a minor thing after a few weeks.

Until tonight at dinner. When I said, without any conscious thought to the matter, "Oh yeah, that sauce was really nice."

I don't even know if that was the first time I've done it, but I noticed this time. I used a Kiwi phrase unconsciously. Now, before you think I'm actually blowing this out of proportion, I'm not. I only care about this moment insofar as it is a sign of my larger acceptance of Kiwi culture.

Certainly everything here isn't perfect, but I do love it. I love being walking distance to a fabulous beach and 10 minutes in the car to about four more. I love how many vineyards I live close to (it's over 20 you guys). I love that I live 2.5 hours from outdoor rock climbing.

I am trying to dive head first into the lifestyle here, and so far, I think I am doing well. That's not to say I am trying to actually become a New Zealander because that won't happen. I just think living in a foreign country is about finding how you operate and can be happy within the culture instead of trying to make it fit to you. I have enjoyed seeing who I've become here.

To me, this happening is more a sign of my general assimilation into Kiwi culture among other things. I look the correct way when crossing the street (right, left, right) instead of looking left, taking one step out and then realizing my mistake. I rarely walk to the wrong side of the car anymore (but it does still happen). I kind of know the names of places and where they are, and I can distinguish the Maori names of places. It's all the little things that help make a place feel like your home, and when I walk around here, I just feel like I belong.

Part of the reason I can feel ingratiated into the culture is because it's so friendly and welcoming. Italy was a warm and passionate place, but I never quite felt like I fit in. In fact, I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb most of the time. It didn't bother me but it didn't feel very homey.

Sure, my accent does make me stick out a bit, but there are tons of English accents here (granted they are mostly from the U.K.) It has been an "easy as" place for me to fit in probably because a lot of the activities are the sorts of things I always wanted to do but didn't have the chance in Kansas: climbing, hiking, bungee jumping (invented in New Zealand!) and all sorts of ocean activities. I just can't get enough. It still blows my mind how I see the ocean every single day.  Plus, I'm totally going to get to pet a lion soon.*

I wouldn't say I am losing my American identity, nor am I fully adapting a kiwi one, but I am taking bits and pieces of everything I have learned and experienced and making it in to something new and wonderful.

This is the driveway where I live. What's not to love? 

*Okay, so I'm probably just going to get very close to a lion in this exclusive tour of an animal sanctuary, but I really want to pet one.