26 May 2015

Back to where it all began....

Seventeen years ago, two bright eyed and bushy tailed young kids met and fell in love whilst working at The Museum Hotel - you can read the whole story in the posts called 'The Original MNM's - how it all began'. It was my first job out of university after finishing my Japanese degree, and Mark's 'year-out' getting some practical experience whilst studying for his travel management degree at the University of Brighton.

We worked not even six months together in the end before Mark's time was up and he had to head back to the UK. It was at this point that we both realised that we had fallen for each other big time and that despite the fact a long distance relationship was a big ask, we were prepared to give it a go.

So when we thought about a last hurrah couples night out in Wellington, we could think of no more fitting place to go than Hippopotamus - the acclaimed restaurant that is now part of the Museum Hotel.

We knew the owner Chris Parkin well back in the day when working there, and even back then he had grand visions for what he wanted the hotel to become. Although it took some years to get there, I'd say looking around he has more than achieved that dream now.

The hotel is sumptuous and eclectic, sprinkled with very unique works of art all around the lobby and throughout the hotel. Hippopotamus has been a Cuisine magazine finalist of the year and with their experienced French chef and attentive waiting staff, it is certainly a cut above the rest in terms of even some of the nicer restaurants in Wellington.

We had thought of doing the degustation menu but with Mark not a big fan of seafood and my tummy doing who knows what?! we thought it might be safer to eat off the a-la-carte menu.

From the moment we arrived, we felt as if we were the most important people in the place. With super attentive waiting staff who explained everything to us and also brought out some superb complimentary aperitif choices to clean the palate in between our courses.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to the most delectable food we have ever set our eyes and bellies on.

My starter:

Beetroot cured Atlantic pickled scallop's, wasabi caviar, lemon snow and butter milk gel

Mark's starter:

Duck liver parfait with caramelised onion sablé, baby poached pear, duck ham, mulled wine 

My main (an adventurous choice but it all tasted A.M.A.Z.I.N.G: 

Deboned rack of lamb, confit lamb neck, sautéed sweetbread, tempura brain, Berbere flavoured labneh yoghurt and harissa sauce

Mark's main:

Silver Fern Reserve eye fillet, beef cheek cannelloni, garlic cream, glazed short rib, sautéed bone marrow and cèpes jus with truffled creamed potato

 My dessert (even that striped disc was made of edible chocolate!)

Kalamansi and vanilla mousse, raspberry and dark chocolate crémeux, raspberry sorbet and coulis

Mark's dessert (the most spectacular specimen of a creme brûlée)

Crème brûlée served with rhubarb financier and lime sorbet

It was a super special night out. I almost can't believe we've never been here before but in some ways I'm glad we saved the best till last. It's an occasion that will linger on in our memories long past the moment when we no longer call this fabulous city home.

22 May 2015

Right in the thick of it...

The days are fair flying by at a rate of knots at the moment - I blink and another one is gone! And I suddenly realised that whoops I haven't even been near the computer in a week to even contemplate any blogging.
Well that's a lie, I've been on the computer. Just anytime I turn it on I find myself busy working. Working. Working. I'm busy trying to train my replacement at work and finish writing all my process notes - all 130 odd pages of them - and there just aren't enough hours in the day right now it seems. And now there's only 3 more days of work before we head off to Rarotonga next Tuesday. Eek!

The boys had 14 of their mates to Mission Inflatable last weekend for a fun 1.5 hour run around. You'd have thought it was carnage having 16 boys in one space but we hardly saw them - easiest party ever! They will really miss their friends - a lot of them are just delightful boys - they are really lucky to have made such lovely ones - even some just in the past six months. As sad as it is to have to leave them behind, I am truly hopeful that God has some lovely friends in store for them in Cambridge.

I did manage to sit down long enough last week to get my hair done - first time in six months. I wasn't necessarily planning on going blonder but that's just how it turned out. And I like it.

In other news...Noah made the most amazing chocolate caramel slice ever...with a little help from me getting it in the tin. And Noah ran his little heart out and got fourth in cross country this week - the only shame is that he won't get to run in the Western Zones because it's run after we leave.

And I know it's nearly two weeks ago, but I can't forget that I had some lovely Mothers Day treats and enjoyed seeing some great performances at the Arise Mothers Day services, and watching my boy play footy too.

We also helped try and rescue a shag that had gotten itself in a bit of a state at the Kelburn shops. We were on our way to the vet to get Murphy microchipped when we spotted the shag on the side of the kerb in the middle of throwing up a couple of fish. He was clearly not well and then proceeded to dice with death by waddling across the road in front of the traffic. I called Zealandia (who couldn't do anything), then the Department of Conservation (who said they would call back when they'd found a local advisor). In the end we were running very late for our appointment so had to just leave the shag on the footpath. The vets were also quite keen to help (but they couldn't leave the surgery right then). In the end when we came back we found him again still making a nuisance of himself but another sip owner had managed to call the SPCA. We managed to corner him in a courtyard which was much safer than out near the traffic but he then escaped and half flew up the road and ended up in a pohutukawa tree. We had to leave him at this point as dinner was calling and I had to go to Pilates so we really hope that he was rescued safely. A bit of unexpected excitement for a Monday night!

This weekend the boys have their last football game for Karori FC, we have our family farewell at Southern Cross on Sunday afternoon, and we are also going out to Hippopotamus restaurant at the Museum Hotel for dinner on Saturday night.

It seems rather fitting don't you think that the very place that brought us together at the very start of our journey as a couple 17 years ago will be the very last place in Wellington we will enjoy a romantic dinner out together. As if everything has come full circle somehow.

This time next week we will be gearing up for my brother Sam and Alesha's wedding at the Pacific Resort in Rarotonga. Nic (my other brother) and I are the wedding photographers and I have to admit to being a little nervous at the prospect as my camera has mostly been sat gathering dust in the corner these past couple of months. I hope that God just gives me some divine inspiration on the day as I'm feeling a little under prepared for it!

Not that I want to think about it, but there's also my damn stomach which started playing up again a week ago. By all rights it shouldn't have, it should be completely behaving itself as I'm still on half the dose of steroids and a higher dose of my usual medication Pentasa. Even the specialist is a bit mystified as to why it's happened now. It's not quite like the last flare up - this time I'm getting a really tight and inflamed tummy which seems to be at its very worst in the small hours of the morning. And typically, just as the steroid dosage had decreased enough to allow me to sleep properly - then this went and kicked in. I tell you I'm a bit BLOODY sick of this body of mine which seems to be letting me down left right and centre at the moment. I hope and pray it doesn't stop us from having a wonderful break away for the wedding, that I can actually carry out my role as wedding photographer to the best of my ability, and that when we get back from holiday I can get through the final 3 days of packing and moving without completely falling apart. It is worrying me how I will be able to cope - so if you believe in the power of prayer could I trouble you to pray for all that too!

As far as I can make out, Wifi and roaming charges are RIDICULOUSLY expensive in Rarotonga so you can be sure that we will be unplugging as much as possible and I very much doubt you will hear from us for the next week! All I can say is bring on those warm temperatures and beautiful beaches!

11 May 2015

One thing I never imagined I'd be doing in my life {building a home in Cambridge....}

Over the Easter holidays, after cutting short our trip around Gisborne in the East Cape with a few nights at Mum and Dads, we spent some time driving around Cambridge looking at the different housing areas and schools to get a feel for the town.

Whoever the town planners were back in the day, they really put some forethought into the town when they were developing it - you can see from the map below how much 'green belt' open space surrounds the town right around the outside - and with all the lovely trees and the lake in the centre of the town it's a simply gorgeous and scenic little town even just to pass through.

When we've mentioned to people that we're moving to Cambridge, no-one has had anything bad to say - we've had comments from 'oh it's lovely' to 'you're gonna love it' to 'I'd love to move there too if I could'. That in itself has been pretty encouraging for us when we are contemplating such a big lifestyle change - going from living right smack bag in the middle of a big capital city (population 400,000) to a small rural town of 18,750.

Even though it's small in size, it's a well known spot and most people who live in the top half of the North Island would have visited or passed through at one time or another since NZ's major road - State Highway 1 that runs from the length of the North Island - currently runs right through the middle of the town. It does make for a lot of extra traffic now, but the new Waikato Expressway being built will take all that traffic to the outskirts of town within the next 18 months. Personally I thing it will be a good thing - although there is of course potential for retailers to suffer (including one of our Evolution Cycles store which is right on SH1 now) but I think Cambridge has enough appeal as a town in its own right that people will still want to stop off here to visit and take a break on their journeys.

Cambridge has a catch phrase 'Town of Trees and Champions' - and rightly so as it is now the base for many elite sports and sportspeople - for a start there's the world-class Velodrome and Cycling NZ based there - with the Track Cycling world champs scheduled to be held here later in the year. Then there's world-class rowing facilities at Lake Karapiro (which hosted the World Champs back in 2010) and Rowing NZ is also based in Cambridge. And as long as I can remember it's also been an equestrian stronghold with a large number of well-known thoroughbred studs dotted around the surrounding countryside.

There's also the Te Awa Cycleway now running right through the middle of the town and all the way out to Karapiro - part of the Great River Ride - 70km of cycleway running along the mighty Waikato River. This will be a great opportunity for us to get out on our bikes together as a family - something that has eluded us in Wellington - although Mark and Noah have done a little bit of mountain biking up in the hills, we are yet to do a whole family ride together - bring it on!

Originally we'd thought we would want to base ourselves on the northern side of town as this is the side of town where both the middle and high schools are located and although we are still a couple of years away from needing that yet, I have no doubt it'll come round soon enough.

That being said, once we started looking at the housing over in that area, we realised just how close the whole area is to the new 4-lane expressway being built as part of the Waikato Expressway project - with the Cambridge section due to be completed late next year.

At the moment, it's a bit of an unknown quantity just how much additional traffic noise there would be once it's operational and there are a LOT of people selling in the area at the moment - and who could blame them?! We did go and look at one house that would have potentially been OK but even then it was still within 500 metres of the expressway and it wasn't that well placed on the section - we would have needed to sort out the fencing as all the living was out front and unfenced and not at all private.

So we started to broaden our thinking, and the next day we took a trip to a new subdivision Cambridge Park that's in the process being built on the south western side of town (on the road out to Te Awamutu). After the trip to the Generation Homes showroom, we came away very interested.

The thought of building our own home hadn't ever occurred to us before - it's not something we could really contemplate doing in Wellington - land is at a premium here and most usable land is on the side of the hill - that is unless you move way out into the 'burbs which would then mean a long commute to town for work. So the idea of this building project was starting to get very appealing.

We settled on a section (the last one available in the current stage of development) and then spent the next week or so going backwards and forwards with Generation Homes negotiating some alterations to the standard house design plans that came with the house and land package.

As we got closer to finalising the contract with both the lawyers and the bank, we also decided it would be wise to get up to Cambridge for the weekend to go back through the showroom in more detail as we had a zillion questions that we knew would be much better answered face-to-face where we could actually touch and look at products and samples and colours. So we booked cheap flights to Auckland and lucky for us, our good friends Jackie and Heidi were very happy to have the boys descend on them for the night, so off we went.

I certainly enjoyed the chance to read the latest Kia Ora magazine from cover to cover uninterrupted and admire the beautiful Central Plateau from mid-air on the flight.

Into the 24-hour crazy turn-around mix we managed to throw in a stop to look at a car in Auckland (which we didn't buy) and dinner out with our dear friends Tracey and Dayne - who we first met in Wellington some 12 years ago and who now live in Hamilton. We are very much looking forward to being 'just down the road' from them!

On Sunday morning we spent a very productive few hours spent going through lots of details and we got the chance to walk into the stage that's in bare bones construction right now - it was a pretty cool feeling standing on the corner of where our new section will be imagining ourselves there in hopefully six month's or so time!

It's still a bit hard to imagine but the view below will be from our front door. I like that it's looking out onto farmland not far away.

An opportunity to view a rental also came up while we were up there, as finding somewhere to live for 6 months while the house is being built was also pretty high on the priority list. Rentals in Cambridge are hard to come by, they are few and far between and get snapped up pretty quickly. Also the fact that we were only wanting to sign up for an initial six months and we also have Murphy to think about was throwing a little more complications into the mix of rental opportunities.

That being said, we really liked the one property we saw. It is MUCH smaller than our house here in Wellington (about half the size!) but is in a cul-de-sac and has a good sized section for the boys. We'd already made the decision that we would 'rough it' a little if need be for the next six months and take a cheaper rental to try and save more money towards the new house. Even though it's so much smaller it does have a single garage (which I think we'll need for the stuff we can't fit in the house) and an outdoor 4th bedroom with bathroom. This was a plus point in the event that our build gets delayed past Christmas as we have English Mum and Dad arriving from the UK to stay for six weeks in late January. And we liked the fact it is also only about 1 kilometre down the road from our new house build. Although it was being rented through a property management company, we also got to meet the owners which turned out to be a really positive move as they really liked us and vice versa.

So we were pretty thrilled to get a call late last week to say the place was ours if we wanted it and we could move in on the weekend we get up there - hurray - God's timing and provision turning out to be totally awesome as always!

So it turned out to be a very productive week all round - the new house contract is with the lawyers and bank and should confirm this week, we have a rental and can now start to organise all our change of addresses, we've signed up with a moving company and confirmed moving and delivery dates with them, and we also just bought a new car on the weekend as well (another must have as Mark will be losing his company car and we will need two cars with us both commuting to Hamilton most days and Mark further afield to the other Evolution Cycles stores). All this adds up to lots of big ticks on the very long to-do list - which this little list maker loves (ha ha!).

And all in all we are feeling very positive towards this new adventure God has in store for us!

07 May 2015

You don't know what you've got till it's gone.... {more I'll miss about Welly}

Now that the clock is ticking at a rapid pace toward our departure on 5 June, I'm finding it nostalgic thinking of all the places we have been in Wellington (and the surrounding region) during our thirteen years here and that we will miss once we are a 7 hour drive away. In case you missed the last post I waxed lyrical about the Metlink City Safari, Wellington on a cracking day, Te Papa, adventures in Otari-Wilton bush, and Zealandia here.

I know for a fact that we will be back to visit, hopefully on a regular basis - there's no way my love of this city will ever diminish but at the same time we must embrace the new path and adventure we are on too as there will be much to love about our new part of the world too.


We've only actually been to Castlepoint once (in winter last year) and I wish I had known how beautiful it was so that we could have a) visited it in earlier years or b) made more time to visit again before we left. The sunrise we experienced here was simply breathtaking and it's a wonderfully uniquely recognisable spot with the lighthouse jutting out on the headland as it does and the stark cliffs of Castle Rock rising up behind it.

At 2.5 hours drive from Wellington you do have to consider staying the night if you want to make it anything less than a flying visit. We stayed in a cosy little cabin at the Holiday Park and it was just perfect for an over-nighter.

Somes Island

Last year we took the boys for an amazing day trip over at Somes Island. We struck it lucky - it was one of those 'can't beat Welly on a good day' days. Crystal clear waters, no wind and an amazing super luxury yacht just happened to be floating in the harbour so we got to see that up close as the ferry went past too.

We walked the circuit of the island, taking in the memorial to those who had been quarantined here and never made it off the island, the views back towards the city, got up close and personal with the little lighthouse on the southern side of the island, before mustering our remaining energy for the short, steep climb up to the island's summit.

It was a magical day out - one we had to almost pinch ourselves to believe we'd actually experienced.

The botanical gardens

We have been fortunate to live within a twenty minute walk of our city's botanical gardens the whole time we have lived in Wellington. When Noah was little, we used to visit it almost weekly - always taking bread down to feed the ducks. It almost feels like the place where he learned to walk, I have such lovely memories of him tottering around on little unsteady legs and hanging over the fence throwing bread.


Come to think of it they've both had their share of 'learning to walk' experiences there - this photo below on Fathers Day when Mylo was nearly one too.

I'll also miss going down in spring to capture the spring colour breathing new life into the gardens - it's been a favourite past-time to visit once the tulips are all out in bloom.

And how can I forget my favourite lamp-post and view into Narnia - how I shall miss it.

We've also enjoyed many an afternoon playing at the playground that has a pretty cool set of slides and flying fox perched on the side of the hill too over the years.

The best little zoo in the world

While some might argue Wellington's zoo isn't the most amazing (it's small and perched on the side of the hill) because it doesn't have the likes of elephants, polar bears, rhinos or alligators that say Auckland Zoo has, we have seen the zoo undergo an incredible transformation over the years we've visited with the kids. A few years running we had annual memberships which made it an easy way to kill a couple of hours whenever the mood took us rather than it having to break the bank! I truly think that it deserves the title of 'best little zoo in the world'.

Our favourite weird looking creature - the tawny frogmouth bird never failed to delight whenever we spotted him.

Well you'd have thought I might have run out places to reminisce over by now, and yet I now there's still so many more places dear to heart in this little city that we will sorely miss that I haven't even touched on yet, so I'll guess I'll just have to keep this little series going a little longer...so next week it is!


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