Jordan

The flight from Dubai to Jordan was, well odd or weird. Including the cabin crew, there were about 25 of us on the plane. I was sure the flight would be cancelled! The plane sat 100+ people! But no, fly we did. After the seat belt lights went off, we all choose an aisle each – every single passenger did and went to sleep! It was again an Emirates flight. 36 hours, 4 flights later from Auckland, we arrived Jordan.

It felt like a 100 hours of travel! The children were very good on the flights. They mostly slept or watched a movie. There was not one tantrum! All the air hostesses were very good with them too. Jordan airport was strangely quiet and empty. Not bustling at all. We meandered our way to immigration via the toilets as usual. We wanted a double entry visa because we were heading to Israel and then crossing back into Jordan plus there was no guarantee that we could get entry visas at the land border we wanted to cross at. The immigration website didn’t have clear information and we didn’t want to chance it. Either the immigration officials were being terribly obtuse (yes!) or Andrew and I’s explanations and gesticulations were not enough. Somehow, we ended up with single entry visas…which turned out to first be a good thing and then a bad thing. I know…story for later!

We cleared immigration and realised both phones were out of charge and the car hire person nowhere in sight. Andrew suggested we wait awhile as our flight arrived 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. I went off to find charging points and found some. Agaba then decided to run off somewhere! Grr – I left the phones charging, Andrew by the arrivals area with the girls and went off after him. He’d run out of the airport. This is where certain communities come into their own. A fella saw him charging off and had run after him as well. He brought him back and I have to say I lost it a bit with Agaba, after thanking the good Samaritan though! Back to the phones – they were still there, I called the car hire guy and he hadn’t even left his office! He turned up about 15 minutes later and we headed out of Amman in the general direction of the south of Jordan. Walking out of the airport was like walking into a a northern Nigerian city during the harmattan period. There was an instant blast of cold air and sand! We didn’t have a planned itinerary because we weren’t sure what Andrew’s pain levels would be. He was still needing the crutches, taking painkillers every 6 hours and daily steriods.

We hired the car from Monte Carlo Car Hire. It was an older car but completely serviceable! It cost us 60JD a day, 21JD a day for extra insurance, 15JD for the booster seats for the children. We also paid 5JD for a mobile dongle/ wi fi and an extra 5JD per day for a Sat Nav which we didn’t use as we had the internet. Despite the car hire company’s tardiness, he turned out to be quite nice! He gave some us tips and pointers, handed the car over to us and away we went!

We decided our first stop would be Madaba. It was about half an hour away from Amman and there were a few things to see there plus we could stop for lunch. We followed the signs – Jordan is very well sign posted for tourists – for the Mosaic church. It cost 1JD for entry and only for adults. Now these prices seems very low, however Jordan is an expensive country to visit. 1JD is equivalent to £1! So the car hire for example was the equivalent of £60 or $120 a day which is very, very expensive. It was also one of the cheaper car hire places. Imagine if we’d gone for one of the all singing, all dancing, all mod cons sedans…we’d still be in Jordan trying to pay off the cost of hire! Driving in Jordan has just one definition. Hairy! Andrew had abdicated his chauffeuring duties so I was driving and it’s a bit scary how it felt so familiar and chaotic at the same time. It was like driving to or from Kubwa at rush hour many moons ago in Abuja.

The Mosaic Church aka St George Church. It’s located right in the middle of Madaba which is a small bustling town. It houses the oldest map of the Holy Land.

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A very friendly sentry who was taken and very much amused by the antics of the children struck up a conversation with us and through him we found the most quaint place to eat. The food was heavenly and prepared right there whilst we were waiting. The owner also kindly charged our phones. Now plugs and adaptors – Jordan uses a mishmash of them. None of the recommended ones we had fit! After a hearty lunch, we decided to follow the brown signs universally recognised by tourists everywhere. We still had no plans but it was just noon so we had a lot of time.

We meandered our way towards Mt Nebo. God showed Moses the promised land on Mt Nebo… It’s quite high up and you can see for miles and miles and miles. Apparently on a very clear day, one can see all the way to Egypt, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Saudi Arabi and the dead sea. We saw nothing like that. Just lots and lots and lots of vast dry land. It was very hazy, maybe the harmattan… We saw a sign for Moses Spring and set off in search of it.

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The very windy and meandering road to Moses Spring. We didn’t find it. No, we gave up after deciding the road was too much of an unknown for us! You can just about see the road we traveled on trailing off in the distance.img_1352

Entrance to the monastry at Mt Nebo. Out of excitement, tiredness or maybe both, Agaba ran down and out of the monastry and straight into a white van parked solidly across the path. No one could have missed it except Agaba. Ok, maybe Onyaidu too would. He sported a shiner on his cheek for several days and took immense pleasure in telling everyone we met that he’d smacked into a ‘big, giant, white van!’

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View of the promised land

As it was just gone past 2pm, we decided to drive towards the Dead Sea and camp – not literally, I hate camping! – there for the night. After a  leisurely hour’s drive with about 4 photo stops, we saw our first glimpse of the Dead Sea. It looked so, so calm.

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We had run out of nappies. I didn’t pack any from Auckland and bought just 3 in Singapore which we used the only night we spent in a bed. We drove towards what looked like the Dead Sea settlement. Only it wasn’t. It was a purpose built tourist pitstop. There was a shopping mall and lots of hotels built on the banks of the sea. We couldn’t find parking at the mall. There was only valet parking which we had to pay for. That annoyed me greatly for some reason and I drove off. We decided the hotels there were too glitzy and we’ll follow the sea and see how far we get. Thanks to the mobile Wi Fi, we knew there was accommodation towards the end of the Dead Sea with availability. Another 40 minutes of driving took us to Mujib Nature Reserve. We couldn’t find the accommodation initially. Then it dawned on us…we were looking at it! With some reservations, Andrew went to enquire about accommodation. They had a triple room. Yay! I asked about washing facilities – remember Genevieve spewed everywhere for a few hours on the flight and those clothes were just rinsed plus we’d had 3 changes of clothes so far. I was met with a blank stare and told it was too late to do any washing. It was just 4pm! I was very tempted to drive back to tourist land an hour away! Andrew prevailed with common sense. We paid for the room and ‘checked’ in. It was basic accommodations. Mattresses and sheets what I would consider threadbare but clean. There were no tea facilities! Waah! We also paid for dinner. I got the vibe the owners were annoyed at me for asking so many questions…so I respected myself and we stayed in the room for a while. I took the opportunity to wash all our dirty clothes by hand. In the words of Agaba, ‘Oh man’! It was such a chore and a painful process and I clearly remembered why I hated it so much in the past. The pads of my thumbs were throbbing painfully when I was done! Andrew was in some pain too. We were in the last chalet. The path was broken stones and gravel so his foot was not very happy.

Dinner was a typical middle eastern fare. Simple but hearty. I didn’t eat any as all I wanted was tea which I finally got after some grumbling. There were other guests there, 2 couple and a group of 4 ladies. Everyone kept to themselves which was a big shame and no one deigned to reply to me or the children’s hellos. Onyaidu also threw the mother of all tantrums just before dinner was served which probably didn’t enamour us to them… I hefted her back to the room and she fell asleep before she hit the bed. She was completely shattered. Now back to the nappy situation. We had only 2, so C and G got one and Agaba had none. I mentally reminded myself to wake him to pee at least twice in the night. I forgot and slept the sleep of the just as did all the rest. The end!

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First glimpse of Mujib Chalets where we spent 1 nightimg_1381

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Breakfast room. The room came with breakfast which was served communally.

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The chalets were lovely. But my slumming days are well behind me now so nope. There’s no internet but there was air-conditioning which dripped throughout the night and left a nice puddle for us to wake too.

9am we had breakfast and checked out. The owners seemed much nicer and were even playing with the children. Maybe they were glad to see us go! Haha

DANA BIOSPHERE

Day 2 in Jordan, we woke bright and earlyish – it was the only early start we had in Jordan so it’s notable! We checked out, had breakfast and drove towards Dana Biosphere through the mountains. Oh my! What absolutely breath taking scenery. The pictures don’t do it any justice. The colours, the undulation of the land, the shimmer of the heat…it is stunning! It was a short 1.5 hour drive but we always veered off amd followed any brown signs we saw.

One of such led us to this museum which touts itself as the Lowest Point on Earth Museum located in Safi. It is 1300f below sea level. It feel normal being there. We didn’t start floating, or ballooning up or grinning stupidly… It is also a 10 minute drive or so from Lot’s cave. Lot’s cave is where Oga Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – we didn’t find his wife salt pillar, probably melted into the dead sea now.

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The museum from the air – NOT MY PICTURE

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We then continued towards Dana. Our plan was to spend the night in Dana so there was no hurry. However, we got to Dana and found this quaint, lovely, sort of backwater place and the first thought in my head was, ‘I’m not bloody washing anymore clothes by hand!’ Dana is a the place to go if you want to see how the Jordanians traditionally live. All the houses are built with mud and stone, lots of donkeys roaming around, buildings looking as if the smallest touch would topple them over and lined with accommodation and cafes/ restaurants – well eating houses and terraces more like and very, very friendly people. Again completely reminded me of my village Ajegbe before brick built buildings and electricity took over. The cobbled streets of course were no good at all for Andrew. These hikes last from a couple of hours to 5 day long hikes. It also gives an idea of the sheer number of tourists that pass through the area. At the back of my mind, I wonder if the town is purpose built. It does give that vibe. There are no children except ours even though it was towards late afternoon. Every other house seemed to be offering accommodation and hikes. There was a plethora of signs advertising accommodation, hikes and tours of the biosphere. Someone called out a greeting to us from above, we chatted a bit about where we were from etc and we decide to go eat at his terrace.

We have lunch and decide to press on to Petra. Andrew wouldn’t be able to do even the smallest hike and so there was no need to stay at Dana. Plus Petra was just another 45 minute drive on

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Heading up to the terrace for lunch

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Agaba and Abdul the home owner take a liking to themselves.

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The children really liked exploring the nooks and crannies in the house.

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Lunch was very nice. Simple, hearty and hot

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View of Dana from the terrace

PETRA

Petra is the name of the gorge where the Roman buildings etc are. Wadi Musa – Musa is Arabic for Moses – is the name of the town in which Petra is located. Which came first? I dunno. Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) is where Moses historically struck a rock to provide fresh water for the grumbling Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. Quite a few of the Jordanian towns are located in valleys. This makes sense as it gets very hot in the summer which lasts for about 7 months or so of the year and even in the winter, the middle of the day does get quite hot. The surrounding hills and mountains cast a shade over the villages and gives reprieve from the fierce sun. Conversely, it gets very cold in the mornings and evenings.

We roll into Wadi Musa and as we had not made any accommodation plans, we drove the streets – it was not busy at all – scouting for what looked like suitable sleeping quarters. Andrew would go in and try to negotiate a price and we’d head somewhere else to compare. The town is small enough that this took only about half an hour. We settled on Petra Sela Hotel. A 4* hotel with a restaurant below as well as opposite and a well appointed family room. The room rates were 140JOD. Andrew bargained to 110JOD. When we came in to pay, I convinced them to knock off another 10JOD per night if we spent an extra night! Dinner for the children is free and we adults will pay 15JOD each. We were asked if we wanted continental meals or Jordanian fare. We opted for local meals. All breakfast included. Oh a big bonus – they have tea making facilities! 😁💕 plus they had a laundry! The shower room was huge as was the room itself. The staff made us very welcome immediately as they started playing with the children and hiding and seeking. I like that each child had their own bed and we had a very large one to ourselves too. Each bed had a dimmer light that shone towards the bed alone and left the rest of the room in shadows. It was communal sleeping at it’s finest!

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Restaurant opposite the hotel. Also owned by the same person

One of the many disadvantages of travel is that children were asleep at 6pm. We were sat waiting for dinner – it was 3 course meals – C & G fell asleep after the starter! I had to lug them across the road and take them to bed. Thank god the children’s meals were free! The manager was so nice – he packed us a doggy bag with enough food to feed 3 people! This came in handy when the children proceeded to wake at 4am! We all had some hot tea, cold rice and chicken. It was yummy! Reminded me of my university and youth service days. I ate so much cold food then!

After that lovely pre-breakfast, we decided to go watch the sun rise over Petra! We got lost a bit, because Andrew still won’t accept I am better at remembering roads than he is!It was cold! We also left the mobile WiFi in the hotel room!

It was cold and absolutely stunning! Plus a bit cloudy so we didn’t quite get to see the sun rise but who cares?! The travel blankets have really come into their own! Here’s to reaching every country on those blankets!

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We returned, had breakfast and drove off for Petra. It was all a bit underwhelming. Sorry!!! I think I’d hyped it up too much in my head but Andrew reports he thought it was just a bit disappointing too. Great British understatement as always! The pedestrian access from the car park is non existent. Be prepared to be hounded, literally with people trying to sell everything as well as sell donkey rides, trinkets, scarves, books, everything! They also do not take no for an answer and will follow you. We kept being told it was not fair we were making the children walk and that we should take a ride. Errm…they have legs?! There is no cash point in the complex so cash out money before heading in if you need to. The passed security, bought tickets, made the obligatory toilet visits and we were off! We spent about 3 hours in total there and it’s easy to spend the whole day exploring. Although it does become samey after a while. To thoroughly explore the complex, I reckon one would need a good 3 days. We bought a 2 day ticket but didn’t return the next day as we felt we’d seen enough.

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Entrance and security gate

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First day of not needing the crutches!

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WADI RUM

We decided to skip day 2 in Petra and head to Wadi Rum instead. We’re quite glad to have chosen one place as a base rather than packing up to drive to Wadi Rum. We again chose to follow the brown signs to Wadi Rum and joined the motorway. The road was so, so bumpy! The camber was all wrong! It was the most uncomfortable 1 hour drive ever. The drivers…the less said, the better. When driving in Jordan, keep well below the speed limit and watch out for pedestrians and animal especially camels and donkeys. They walk everywhere and would just walk into the road. Even the motorway! Wadi Rum is a protected area. The Bedouins have done a good job of keeping it from being completely over run and keep a tight-ish control of who goes in and out. Again we were cornered by a young lad just before we got to the visitor centre. He offered us a price and I was almost going to negotiate the realised he’d charged us the official price. I know he was expecting us to negotiate but I would have happiy paid the official price so why not pay him that?! Just before we climbed into the open backed truck, I heard the inevitable, ‘Mama, poo poo’. I looked round, it was all open land, no bushes, no trees, no hedges. Damn children! They always pick their moments! I quickly told the young lad what the issue was and he ushered me towards one of the low bushes that I hadn’t noticed before. There, we did our business, buried it in the sand and drove off. Phew! It was a bit chilly sat in the back of the truck, so we all suited up. We booked a 2 hour drive as I didn’t want to take the chance of the children falling asleep. What a nightmare that would be! It was a leisurely 2 hour drive across a vast expanse of nothingness. Even the mountains and rocks looked puny sat on the land. It was completely bare and very much unlike the Sahara desert. The hues were richer. Deep reds, golds and all the shades in between those two colours. I give kudos to those who camp there. My camping days are well and truly behind me.

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These sand dune was just calling out to be climbed. I settled with a drink and let the children at it. Andrew was a bit helicopter parent ish and kept trying to go after them. The sand defeated him and he came to sit beside me.img_1671img_1674.movimg_1678

We took the scenic route back to Petra but did not manage to avoid that diabolical motorway! Our next stop was Aqaba where we will hand back the car and cross the border to Israel.

AQABA

We only spent half a day in Aqaba. In hindsight, we should have spent 1 night there and explored a bit more. Aqaba is a lot nicer than Eliat. Eliat and Aqaba are border and coastal town which sit on the Red Sea between Israel and Jordan. The Jordanian side has lovely resorts, nice hotels and a Mediterranean feel to it. It was a lovely town. We went walkabout, had some lunch and then handed in car. There are a few things to see like the oldest church in the world, the fortress (which was closed for repairs and more Roman ruins) but more than anything, it’s the home of water sports in Jordan and these were advertised everywhere. You can’t take Jordanian cars into Israel and vise versa. The driver dropped us off at the border. It was about a 10 minute drive from the centre of Aqaba. We walked up, handed in our passports, paid 10JD for exit fees and our passports got stamped! Oh well, means we can never go to Saudi Arabia! We walked across to Israel.

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Aqaba Church. Apparently the oldest purpose built church in the world.

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The Epic Christmas Trip!

We’d always stuck to 5, 7 days and a max of 14 days travel here and there. We’ve never really done any long term sustained traveling as like most people, I shudder to think of lugging the children from airport to airport, carrying suitcase upon suitcase and the inevitable plaintive, ‘Carry me!’ wail from each child. Remember, we are outnumbered. The children are at the stage where we cannot carry all of them at once. Agaba is about my chest high tall – that sentence does not work right? My English is not currently working! I physically can’t carry him from standing. The girls, I can just about manage. With all of these in mind, long term travel seemed out of reach. This is where the World Schooler Group comes in. There are families traveling full time. As in travel for months, years and years and non stop. With 2,3,4,5 and one Aussie woman is traveling with 9 children! We (they and I copy) share tips on how they do it, what they wished they’d done or not done and my eyes shined – again wrong I know! This is Nigerian English now.

2018 was the year we test this travel strategy. We’d decided (well I did and everyone else agreed. Ok Andrew agreed. Nobody asked the children) that we would visit South East Asia this year particularly Cambodia and Vietnam and if we could, we would fit in Laos. Singapore seemed to be the obvious choice to make all the connecting flights so around May 2018, I shopped around and booked a return ticket to Singapore. Around August, my father was diagnosed with a chronic health condition. After some discussion with the family, we agreed to change the focus of our trip to the Middle East. This will enable my father meet up with us in Dubai (there’s no way I’m taking my children to Nigeria yet) plus also enable my siblings to meet up with there too all being well. So, countries got changed and we decided – joint decision honestly – on Jordan, Israel, UAE then spend some time in Singapore before heading back to Auckland. Our leaving and returning dates were fixed for 8th December to 7th January so 1 month. It is the longest we have been away and the longest we have had only ourselves for company! Eek!!! Either a divorce will be on the cards when we return or… plus it’s our 7th year of marriage! Double eek!!!

I didn’t book the rest of the trip till towards the end of the year for many reasons. 2018 was hands down one of the most expensive years we’ve ever had. We moved houses within Auckland and lost some of our deposit – got 2/3rds back though! Which paid in full for just the cost of moving 15 minutes down the road – as well as paid deposit for another house. Now, house rents are paid weekly. Our rent is just shy of $1000 a week. To move in, we needed 6 weeks rent upfront. We also applied for residency visas. Visa application fees came to just over $3000. Auckland is unarguably one of the most expensive cities to fly from and we had 5 tickets to pay for. Our Singapore round trip was just over $5000. It was one of the cheapest I found and that was by using VPNs, obsessively tracking flights and  checking playing around with flight dates and times. We would save and use up the money then start the cycle all over again. So it took a while and lots of beans on toast (it’s very cheap here too!) to save up for the rest of the trip. To be fair, the cost of tickets out of Singapore didn’t go up much. What we paid in November was not to dissimilar to the prices I saw in September. The only difference was the time. The flights at the sensible times had skyrocketed. We didn’t mind flying in and out at 3am and that is exactly what we did. I also found that splitting tickets and in some instances buying one way tickets worked out cheaper. Also transiting through Australia knocked about $700 off the ticket price rather than flying directly from Auckland to Singapore. So flights were Auckland to Singapore via Melbourne – round trip with a 4 hour and 1.5 hour layover in Melbourne respectively. Round trip tickets from Singapore to Dubai then round trip tickets from Dubai to Jordan worked out about $540 cheaper than flying from Singapore direct to Amman. It also meant we could take the cheaper flight that landed at 1am with a 5 hour layover in Dubai. a Couple of days before we left, we found out my younger sister could not join us in Dubai. So we decided to head to Cyprus and surprise her so booked return tickets to fly from Tel Aviv to Larnaca. It was a 1 hour flight and cost us $800. That was $200 less than it cost us to fly from Auckland to Christchurch in earlier in June with lots of notice too. We needed up buying another ticket but I’m jumping the gun here. Our total flight costs including the last minute flight came to $10,400 NZD

Saturday 8th December dawned clear and bright. I had not done any packing the day before. My plan was to travel with only hand luggage for the 30 days we were going to be away for. I knew if I started packing the day before, I’d panic and over pack! So I was deliberate and meticulous in my plans. Each child has a Smiggle back pack they already use for Kindy. It is well made, comfortable and very lightweight. Andrew and I also have a medium sized regular back pack each.

Each child had: 10 clothes – a combination of T shirts, shorts, tights and tops so they could mix and match. 10 pairs of pants each (mainly because of accidents), 1 travel blanket which came in very handy and folds quite small, 2 pairs of shoes (1 sandal and 1 closed), a kindle, 2 activity books and 1 water bottle. I usually buy Pediped shoes for the children. Not only do they mould to the feet but they flex and can fold up small too. Plus swim suits

Andrew & 1: 1 pair of comfortable shoes, 5 pairs of clothes and a reasonable number of underwear, 1 laptop, 1 water bottle, swim suits.

We also packed clothes that we could easily dispose of if needed. I know from the WS group that most places have a clothes bank that we could giveaway the clothes at if we needed to badly restock. I also deliberately picked clothes that were becoming too small for the children so I’d have to donate them before heading back. I bought some packing cubes but didn’t use them. They work better for suitcases where each person’s stuff goes in a different cube and can easily be found. I found it just bulked up the back packs so I rolled each piece of clothing and into the backpack it went. I also had a wet bag in each child’s bag for those accidents and somewhere to put wet clothes. That was godsent! We also packed one waterproof lightweight coat each just in case. This made me decide to take a cabin sized suitcase so the coats could go in it. We never needed to use them!

Other things I packed were 2 solid body wash bar, solid body cream – it was absolutely useless!!! and a solid conditioner bar each. We don’t use shampoo so it was one less thing to carry. I can report that all were very good apart from the cream. Absolutely useless. It just sat on the surface of the skin and we all ended up with very dry skin. I had to buy Aveeno in the end to repair all the damage. Maybe it was the particular product I bought – purchased from Ethique. A few days before our trip, Andrew woke up with excruciating pain in his foot. Couldn’t bear weight and had to work from home for most of the week. A trip to the Dr and a blood test later revealed he had a gout flare up. First ever one, just a few days before a trip that would require lots of walking. Nice! Thanks to a friend, we borrowed some crutches and took it with us.

Our flight out of Auckland was at 12.30pm on the 8th. Cecile very kindly dropped us off at the airport for our first flight from Auckland to Melbourne. The children were very excited. I was filled with both trepidation and a small sense of excitement. The benefit of traveling with only hand luggage soon became very, very apparent.

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The flight to Melbourne was quick and easy! The children settled into their seats and watched movies all through. No one slept! They were troopers and would happily pick their bags and carry them without being asked to – the bags are their regular kindy bags and I think that helped as they’d been using them for sometime and identified the bags as theirs.

After an easy 4 hour wait at Melbourne, we boarded at 5pm for our flight to Singapore. I had to change G’s clothes three times. She just kept throwing up. She seemed fine in herself and had no temperature so we just kept an eye. Darn airplane food! We decided to help ourselves overcome jet lag and make the journey easier by stopping over at Singapore. After lots of research and again leaning on the WS group as well as the other family travel groups on FB and the overwhelming advice was to book a hotel at the airport and make sure we get some sleep. We had just under a 24 hour layover in Singapore and our flight was getting at Dubai at just after 2am.

So first stop! A 24 hour layover in Changi Airport. We booked Aerotel Hotel. It’s a budget hotel located at T1. Off the plane, 10 minutes later, we were having a hot shower. No need to clear immigration as it’s airside. I tried to book the hotel online but it get trying to get me to book 2 rooms as there are 5 of us. The curse of the non 2 parent, 2 child family! I called up and asked for the family suite which is a 2 bedroom as I wanted to make sure I booked in the right number – the reviews indicated the staff would not honour bookings where people turned up with even a baby that was not registered in the guest number! The customer service agent was brilliant and assured me we didn’t need a 2 bedroom. She booked us into a double room with twin beds. The beds are more like Queen sized. The children fit nicely and comfortably into one of the beds. Andrew and I take the other. They offer wake up calls. The room is very silent! We stayed in an inside room so we have no windows. Some of the rooms have views of the runway. All soundproof!

The hotel comes with a complimentary swim at the roof top swimming pool. As we’ve booked for more than 12 hours, we have 2 full meals included. The menu has only about 8 items though but the meals were filling and tasty! The cost was $120 for the room, meals and unlimited use of the swimming pool!

We checked out at 2pm. That gave us 6 ish hours to explore the airport! It’s a mini city 🌃 in it’s own right! Each terminal has activities and things to explore and do.

If you have a layover of 5 hours or more, you can also get free tours of Singapore! As long as you have an onward ticket, you’ll be issued a single entry visa.

Aerotel double bedroom.

Cactus Garden and bar. There’s live music in the evenings too.

The social tree. You take a picture and upload it to Changi Airport’s SM sites. You get tagged if you log in as yourself. The pictures are also beamed round the tree at intervals

Dining room at the hotel. Up the stairs is the gym and pool. Through the corridors are more bedrooms, shower rooms and toilets.

Hotel Foyer

Dining room. Lots of space and seating. We spent a good 2 hours here leisurely watching the planes land and take off

Descent into Singapore.

The Emirate flight from Singapore to Dubai was… I lack the adjectives kowai! (word used for emphasis in Hausa language. No idea of meaning) Andrew has said we can only fly Emirates from now on! The children were well looked after and catered for. I was most impressed with the gluten and sugar free dessert. All the meals were nicely presented, tasty and filling. We also got proper cutlery! None of those plastic airport cutlery. They were given nice, fluffy blankets with animals drawn on them. They also had activity packs for the children. We arrived Dubai bleary eyed. Changed terminals and waited for our flight to Jordan. We had a 5 hour wait so went in search of breakfast. We had to change terminals. It took us over an 1 hour to transfer from one terminal to another. Worth knowing for very short layovers!

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For cash, I ordered the Transferwise Mastercard. It works like a debit card. The main reasons why I like is that I can load the currencies of different countries on it from either my UK or NZ account and use it instead of transferring money to and fro. I can also withdraw without any charges as long as you have activated that country’s currency. As it has an app, I can also freeze the card immediately if I lose the card which I thought was a great bonus!

Jordan to come…

 

 

 

 

Auckland and environs

Auckland gets a bed rep. A lot of residents (Kiwis and no Kiwis) hate it. Yes, compared to the rest of NZ it is positively a bustling melting pot. Yes, it has traffic issues (don’t get me started), yes, houses are crazy expensive. But for NZ’s largest city – population of Auckland, 1.4 million. Population of NZ, just over 4 million – it is still very provincial. Each suburb is a fully functioning community. You don’t need to head into the city centre to shop, eat, have fun etc. Each suburb has theatres, lots of free activities, shopping malls, independent shops, cafes, banks etc. You only need to drive for 10 minutes or so and you’re out in the open countryside. Usually in the middle of nowhere! It’s rare to find a busy beach even on a Saturday afternoon! There are lots of walks and almost all neighbourhoods have protected reserves that transport you from being right in a highly built up area to hearing only birdsong and the occasional helicopter! Every weekend brings a free event or another. There are heaps and heaps to do. The biggest bonus? All the concerts have a performance in Auckland and included in the ticket costs will also be transport on the trains and buses. Grabone and 1 day offer lots of reduced offers to a gazillion activities, meals out and days out. What’s not to love?

I LOVE AUCKLAND!!!

MOTAT – Museum of Transport and Technology. Free for under 5s. There is always an activity on for children and families.

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Piha Beach – Auckland’s surf mecca. Usually empty in the mornings and evenings. Surf lessons for children from age 4 also available. Has lots of caves, rock pools and walks.

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My house???!!!

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Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill – one of the many dormant (extinct?) volcanic peaks and craters in Auckland. Cornwall Park is also one of the largest parks in Auckland. It can get very, very busy at weekends and Christmas but you still get the illusion of being in your own space.

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Devonport – home to NZ’s naval base. Has lots of military history. Tunnels to explore and rolling down the hills on cardboard!

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Cruise season begins…not many Aucklanders like it, well except the shop owners!

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WHOA Studios, Henderson. Always puts on children’s shows and events. Under 3s free if sat on laps.

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Kayaking on various lakes and rivers. We’re on the Puhoi River here, just north of Auckland.

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Maritime Museum Auckland. Under 5s free. Also free for Auckland residents. You need a proof of address. I showed an energy bill from my phone so you don’t even need to take a paper copy along.

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Ti Point Reptile Park – just North of Auckland. Tickets can easily be bought from Grabone. $50 for all 5 of us. It was a lovely day out for the children.

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Taupo and environs

We spent the weekends in August visiting Taupo and it’s environs. Taupo is located in Central North Island and has the advantage of being the location of the major ski fields on the North Island. It also boast of being home to New Zealand’s most active volcano, Mt Raupehu (last erupted in 2007 and is currently showing some activity) which is also the gateway to the Tongariro crossing. This means the Central North Island region is a hotbed of activities all year round. There’s also a cycle track all the way from Taupo to New Plymouth. That’s several days worth of cycling. Hopefully, one we would be able to undertake sometime in the future. It is an activity packed area. One can be based there and visit Rotorua, Matamata, Raglan, New Plymouth as it’s fairly central. There’s also a bus from Taupo to Wellington and to Auckland. Those cities are too far for a day trip but will certainly work for overnight trips from Taupo. If you have a car, even better!

Unfortunately, I had a phone mishap and I can’t access all my pictures. It had not backed up to my drive and the touch screen won’t work. Till I sort it out, we have only these few pictures to go with.

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Brr!!! It was -11! We weren’t out for long! PS – it was T shirt weather a mere 15 minutes drive down later

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Very eerie landscape. Just a few minutes drive down from the mountain peak and ski fields.

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Hot springs in our hotel. They are boiling hot and have to be diluted with cold water. Very nice after a long cold day outside though

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rotorua – Oct 2018

It’s another bank holiday whoopie! The last one was early June so this was a long awaited one. As usual, we were heading somewhere. We vaguely had Napier in mind and started looking at accommodation. A few friends have been hassling me that I don’t include them in my travel plans and they would like to see NZ too. For every good reasons, I do not like planning joint trips unless I have no choice. A month to go, I ask my friend for their travel budget. A week to the trip I still had no answer. At this point, I was tempted to just do my own thing. 2 days before the trip, I seriously start hunting for suitable accommodation and can find none in Napier. Not. A. Single. One! Really?! I cast the net a bit wider. Nada! Thursday night – we were going away on the Friday – we change tack and start searching other places to go. We then decide on Rotorua. We’ve only passed through it. It is only a 2 hour drive away as opposed to Napier that is a good 5 hours drive away and it has plenty to see and do in a long weekend. Our search yields results and Andrew books a Motor Lodge. That is the New Zealand equivalent of a Premier Inn or Holiday Inn but Motor Lodges comes in various sizes here. They usually comprise of studios, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom lodges. We booked a 2 bed one. Our current au pair Cecile has only been with us a week but she opts to come as well. Of course, friend decides they don’t want to come anymore. It’s too expensive apparently. Sheesh…

Friday dawns clear and sunny. I work very close to the motorway and keep an eye on the road. By 1pm, there was a gridlock building already so we decide to leave Auckland at 7pm. As usual, we feed and wash everyone and set off. We arrived at 9.30pm and everyone settled in for a good sleep.

We spent Saturday and Sunday exploring Rotorua and it’s environs. We kick off by heading to Te Puia. Te Puia houses the largest geyser, Pohutu in the southern hemisphere. Rotorua is known for it’s geothermal activity so it’s fitting we start there. Entry costs $81 for adults and free for children. We get a discount of $30 each as we have NZ addresses. Sweet!!! We started off with a wander round. It’s a hotbed (the whole of Rotorua is) of geothermal activity. Everywhere smells like Iceland  but it’s not Iceland! We also attended the daytime Maori traditional performance at the Marae which included a Waiata, a hongi and a haka performed specially for ticket holders. It was a moving ceremony and performance which made me very home sick! It was very much like the masquerade dances and ceremonies in my part of Nigeria! It actually took me back to my great grand mother’s funeral. She was not only the oldest villager when she passed away but she was the last surviving practitioner of the old religion. As such, her send off was a grandiose and cultural affair! I felt her with me sitting there for the haka. Due to the children, we were given the honour of sitting right in front and the children got a special hongi but Andrew was not fast enough in taking pictures! Oh well!

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Boiling water everywhere! The meals served there are actually cooked in the traditional Maori style in the ground using the mud pools

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Pohutu. Erupts every 10 minutes or so

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We walked to Te Puia and back. Had some pizza for lunch and went in  search of high ground. We decided to walk up to Aorangi Peak. There we some Llamas and rein deer up there! Made it worthwhile! We didn’t quite make it to the top as it was getting dark but the vista across Rotorua and Waikato was beautiful!

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Sunday morning, we wake late. This never happens but it’s welcome! We thought about going to Hell’s Gate but the thought of a mud bath was enough to make us discard that idea. Plus it’s more geothermal activity and we had our fix of that yesterday. We head to Okere Falls and walks. In the days of yore, there used to be a hydro station located here. There are relics and remnants of hydro machinery dotted about. It also has very lovely and scenic walks all the way to the bottom of the river and back to the falls. The children loved running about and exploring.2a1650d4-882c-4b06-818f-d2fa9a37ba7ab76f1c00-c2f1-4ca4-a7eb-fca420e2fddfCIXI1768

Bottom of the river. In typical New Zealand style, it was very clear!IMG_0651

Exploring the nearby caves. It’s also the part where the river pinches and drops causing a huge waterfall.IMG_0665IMG_0672

White water rafters! Tumbling into the water below! Many manged to stay in their inflatable boats. Quite a few turned over! All had life jackets on though. No drownings to report! I quite fancy a go at white water rafting too. Watch this space!IMG_0681IMG_0686

A picture of all of us! Yay!IMG_0694

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KEROSENE CREEK

A 30 minutes or so drive outside Rotorua is Kerosene Creek. True to it’s name, it’s smells faintly of kerosene and has a slight taste of what I would imagine kerosene tastes like. It is very warm. The temperature is very comfortable to sit in for the 40 minutes or so we spent there. I imagine it would be too hot in the summer. The outside temperature was about 20 degrees and there a was a bit of a wind which was nice on the skin when one comes out for a breather. The children loved it!

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The weather was nice and lovely! Food cheap as usual. We stayed right opposite Countdown and Pak and Save so it was easy to cook up something. The lodge had no oven but it had cooking facilities. Oh and a spa pool!

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Our humble abode for the few nights there!

Childcare…Arghh!!!

Arghhh!!! Arghhh!!! Arghhh!!! Now that’s out of my system!

My college is one of the amazing places to work in. Pay is great, support is great but there is no flexibility in hours. With a bit of groveling, I manage to change my work hours to become a bit more family friendly. Those who know me well, know that it took several cycles of IVF to conceive my children. In as much as I want to work, I also dearly want to spend lots of time with them. However, this small thing called work keeps getting in the way. Thank to having an au pair, it has been relatively easy to balance this. I don’t have to haul them out of bed every morning – I have very late risers, I don’t have to worry about dinner when I’m late, or the laundry or the washing or stay off work when 1 child is ill. The last one is very, very important. I get only 7 days sick leave – every employee here does! Compared to the UK where I got a whooping 12 weeks sick leave. Neither us nor the children can afford to fall ill! Not to forget the $45 charge to see a doctor! One of our biggest expenses here is childcare. Contrary to what most people think, having an au pair is the cheapest form of childcare for us. When I say we have au pairs, people often respond that it must be nice to be able to afford live in childcare. The main reason why we can afford them is because they live in! Therefore the pocket money is a fraction of what we would pay a live out nanny. The good childcare providers, pre schools and Kindys – also have waiting lists. The ‘free’ 20 hours does not kick in till they are 3. In the girls case, they will be almost 3.5 years before they get into Kindy due to waiting lists. So we need 5 full days of childcare for them and 2 days for Ethan. I can now see why a lot of parents do not exercise the right for the child to start school at 6 years! This is also obvious from the Au Pair groups. Hosts families are increasingly offering au pairs lots of incentives to join their families. Self contained accommodations, much more pocket money, sole use of own cars, paid holidays… New Zealand being an island and so far from anywhere is a big contributing factor. Within the EU, there are lots of countries to pick an au pair from and tickets from the US are also very cheap! Not so here! So there is a greater demand for au pairs than the supply can cope with. Immigration of course has a huge role to play. The numbers are heavily capped from almost everywhere apart from a handful of countries. Some countries citizens can only work for 1 employer for 3 months. That then reduces the pool of choice for families like ours that prefer continuity. I can’t imagine doing the recruitment process 4 times a year!

So Cynthia left in August. She had to as her visa was running out and she’s only allowed 1 year! She had been such a big part of our NZ life, having been with us for the first 12 months. We duly started searching for and found another French young lady. Yay we thought. I’ll call her C. We went through all the interview and chatting process and were happy with her. She was adamant 3 children would be okay and gushed about how much she loved children. C couldn’t start till mid September as she had a holiday planned with her family. We felt the interviews went so well, it was worth finding a buffer au pair. So, I went hunting and found – after saying no a few times and got convinced by her tenacity – this lovely American girl. I didn’t want to employ her for two reasons. 1. She’s 18. My main au pair criteria is to be aged 23 and above and be female. 2. She was American. Yes, yes, I know! Stereotyping… I’m human ok! So we found Peggy. Peggy was the most awesome 18 year old! Not phased by anything and built a very special bond with the children. I’m really hoping she stays in touch as she really raised the au pair bar high for us. Sorry au pairs! Blame Peggy! Anyway long story short; C arrived, spent 5 days with Peggy showing her the ropes and came to me in tears. Apparently it not us, it’s her and my children are so lovely, bla tears, bla, tears, bla tears. I just calmly said to her, ‘No worries. Go if you must. Don’t stay if you feel you can’t hack it’. She then rubs salt in my wound by asking how we would cope with work. Er…you didn’t think of that first?! Well done! Slow clap for you!!! It was also the morning of my 40th birthday party and I was about to start prepping for the party and Peggy was leaving the next day! What an epic way to just destroy the whole of my day. But as Naija no dey carry last, I banished all thoughts of childcare to the back of my mind and had a blast!

Sunday downed early with the realisation that we had no childcare at all. We had no friends in the immediate locality to call on – a big shout out to Sami here! You know why!!! We couldn’t afford a live out nanny. We didn’t have sufficient annual leave to take. We both get 4 weeks but have to save a week and the half for the compulsory closure over Christmas. Andrew’s office agreed to let him work from home all of that week and I scrambled posting around all the FB groups trying to find childcare. A few nannies contacted me with a reduced rate that was still coming to around $800 a week. Nah… I got contacted by a Childcare centre – these offer all day sessions usually from 7.30am to 5.30/6.00pm. It is the very epitome of what I didn’t want for the children but it was our only current solution. I also contacted a few in country au pairs who were leaving host families etc. 1 told me she was very strict and felt most Kiwi children have no boundaries… Oops! No way! I must have interviewed 6 young women in as many days. We then settled on a young, sweet Welsh/Kiwi lady. She was good with the children. Certainly very careless with a few things including the over all health of the children. 1 week in, I got home to a very sun burnt Catherine. This was the 2nd time it was happening. I asked her to leave immediately, called work and took the rest of the week off unpaid. I was so miserable, missed home  – where is home? Nigeria? UK –  and seriously contemplated resigning. I spent hours scouring the FB au pair pages, reactivated my membership of all the au pair search sites and generally hanging out with the children. By a stroke of luck, a name popped up on my messenger. It was a young lady I had chatted with around July this year and discounted as she wanted to hunt to other jobs and come back to me. She did come back to me but by then we had agreed a date and contract with C! I sent her a message, it turned out she was still seeking a family so we agreed to meet up that weekend and scope ourselves out. She was nice and lovely and tried to interact with the children. Same day, I got an application from a German au pair who was stranded. She’d arrived to news her host family didn’t need her anymore then I got another message from my ad on the backpacker pages. Another German, she was in Auckland and had tried fruit picking and decided it wasn’t for her. Suddenly, I had lots of choices. We lastly went for the French young lady that I’d chatted with awhile. She’d met the children and seemed to connect with us all plus she is French. Remember my French agenda? The children must speak French!

She’s been with us 3 weeks and is amazing! Shame she leaves in December! I have organised another au pair to start January for 12 months. She’s also French and is much older than all my au pairs at 29! I am a bit apprehensive to be honest. I am not backwards in coming forwards and speak my mind always but having a proper full grown adult who has lived on her own for several years is a huge step for me. Wish me luck!

I have had questions about childcare costs so here’s our costs. We pay our au pairs $300 a week. This is for 35 hours of sole care, 2 babysitting evening/nights (we always have Monday as date night and one night in reserve for food shopping or late working etc – it’s hardly used) and light house work. we pay a cleaner to come do a deep clean once every week so the rest of us can just keep on top of it. The au pair also has the use of our 7 seater car to cart the children about and for personal use when not at work. Now the children are all 3 – thank Jesus!!!! – we get 20 hours ECE funding. Although free, we have to pay a donation. This equates to $20 a week x 3. Au pair lives with us so has no bills or food costs. We also choose to buy their toiletries but I do not pay for fancy ones. The advantage of this is that the clock is flexible, if I really need them at a weekend – ie when we did the Skydive then it’s just easy to come to an agreement. There is a permanent 3rd set of adult hands. Our bedtime routine takes 30 mins. That would never have been possible with just 1 person! A private pre-school or childcare centre (only availability if under 3) will cost us a minimum of $370 per child per week. Even though Agaba gets his 20 hours, the standard times are 8.30am to 2.30pm so we will still need wrap around care. An hourly nanny is from $20ph to $30ph. Our food budget is an extra $50-$60 to compensate for having an additional adult in the house so it is way cheaper to have an au pair. Our biggest loss is privacy. But that is a small price to pay.

Hopefully she will also be our last au pair…hopefully. I plan to find a school mum and come to some sort of arrangement or have a live out nanny as our childcare needs will reduce dramatically when the girls are at Kindy and Agaba goes to school. Days like this, I wish I didn’t feel the obligation to work. It’s not essential I work but it’s an obligation. To myself, my children, my whole family – nuclear and otherwise. Moreover, what will I do with all the qualifications I have collected and acquired at great expense and time? I could burn them all I guess haha

Nothing yet from Immigration. Andrew checks his emails and the Immigration website daily. I strut around with no care in the world. The mills of Immigration grinds very slowly. He will come to that realisation soon enough!

ESTATE AGENTS AKA PROPERTY MANAGERS

You will be pleased (or maybe not) to hear they are also a hated demographic here too! Our previous ones decided to hold onto almost 4/5ths of our deposit for supposed damage. Remember this is for a house that was leaking badly, had mould growing in several places, the ceiling of one bedroom cut out, a very lovely balcony we were warned at the pain of death not to use – it could cave in and a house we spent money on to make it a little bit more liveable. Long story short, they threatened to take us to the Tenancy Tribunal and we whole heartedly encouraged them to. It took 8 weeks after us moving out for them to conduct a check out inspection. In the 7 months we rented that property, we had 4 property managers. None had an inkling what their predecessor did or did not do. After some posturing and us refusing to budge, they decided to negotiate rather than threaten. The upside of that is we have most of our deposit coming back. Yay! Time to plan another holiday! Speaking to a few people, it seems this practice is standard. The rulings of the Tenancy Tribunal is usually public. There is a shortage of good housing stock in Auckland – refer to my earlier posts from 2017 – therefore tenants live in fear of not being accepted for another property and will usually roll over for property managers. This is more so for many who have newly  emigrated here as they also have no credit history. Our luck was in the fact that we have already moved into another property and thanks to the lackadaisical attitude of the PMs, almost 12  weeks had passed before any discussions about the deposits were brought up. Our current PM is very good so far! On the ball, takes repairs very seriously. The landlord also seems happy with us over all so that’s good. We plan to remain in this house forever so wish us luck! Without blowing our own trumpet, we have looked after all the houses we’ve lived in. After all, we’re home owners ourselves and have had tenants ourselves.

PS -Still no news from Immigration New Zealand. It is now 4 months. Toodles!

12 months on…

 

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Time flies when you’re having fun or waiting for something important to come to pass. Whichever way you look at it, time zips by!

So 12 months on… how are we? Do we still like New Zealand? Have we made the right decision? I don’t know! I miss home (not even sure where home is!) terribly. The stresses of having to find and then move house was too much. I started picking at my hair again so lost quite a bit at the side. I’m suffering badly from insomnia and surviving on 3/4 hours sleep a night. The children are also waking a bit more often at night. Related to my stress levels? Who knows? Andrew is also showing signs of stress though he pretends to be very zen. He’s picking a lot at his face and is developing bald patches where he’s picking at his hair as well. Great! He swears he’s not under stress. Typical Brit. I want to shout it from the rooftops! I AM STRESSED!!!

Ok. Now that is out…we’ve moved! Yay! Much nicer house, it is insulated, warm, has heat pumps and a large garden. It is also $80 more expensive per week! Oh well, you can’t put a price on a warm, waterproof house it seems. We also moved into central suburbia. We had grand plans of moving to the country and living like locals. We are now right in the middle of Browns Bay. A quick hop and skip to the shops, bus stops, schools and we probably never need to drive again!

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We’ve also applied to change our visas. We are changing to the Skilled Migrant Visa so will be free birds and not tied to Andrew’s organisation. I am amazed by 2 things. One – The organisation wholly support the move to this visa even though it means Andrew could leave them and go work elsewhere. Two – The New Zealand Immigration Service. Very helpful! You can call and chat to someone. If the line is busy, you leave your number and they call you back. They called me back twice! First time I was busy and didn’t pick. They left a voice message and called back a second time! Wow! Mind completely blown! The immigration service also has a regular number. Not the very expensive 09 number that the UK one has. It is very difficult not to compare both.

We started the application process in April by applying for an IQA. All skilled applicants have to have their qualifications verified by NZQA – the body for regulating qualifications in NZ. Similar to OFQUAL with with wider reaching powers. The IQA is a comprehensive assessment to check that the applicant’s qualifications compares to a NZ one. It costs $720 for the application. You can assess upto 5 certificates/qualifications in one IQA application. We opted to assess only Andrew’s qualifications as we already had enough points without adding my qualifications. You can opt for a PAR which is much, much cheaper at $138 but a very big BUT, the PAR will only confirm that what level your qualification falls within the NZ framework. To actually get the points, you need the IQA. Therefore, it’s a no  to get the IQA first time round otherwise, you’ll pay for the PAR, then the IQA. Money, money, money… It takes around 6 weeks to be assessed. NZ is very excellent at digitizing information. We duly got an email after 4 weeks that the certificates had been assessed and we were sent a link and reference numbers. We had previously been informed that I did not need another police check from either the UK or Nigeria but Andrew did. All documents gathered, we sent off the application. Almost 12 months to the day of submitting our first visa application to NZ. One week later, the whole package came back! I needed a police check and from both countries! The most important part of all this is that we didn’t get charged! We were given a time frame to resubmit. I remember several incomplete applications that the UK immigration will charge you in full for. So you had to pay again when you resubmitted!

Anyho, it was easy getting the UK police check. My fabulous cousin, Manny chose this precise time to swan off to New York! How dare he have a life? Who is going to sort my Nigerian police check? I spend an agonising 10 days waiting for him to return from his jaunts. I am still beefing him so I will not go into how he lost his luggage and was then stranded in New York for another 2 days! Having duly returned home, my Nigerian police check was issued within 2 days! It took another 6 days or so for DHL to deliver it to my front door. That certificate traveled all over! It stopped in almost as many countries as the number of days it took to arrive!

Documents again packaged and sent off a 2nd time. About 5 weeks later, we get an email from the Case Manager. I need to prove I can speak English! Ok, they have all my certificates, a copy of my CV, my British passport which I had to prove I could speak English to get and I am working here as a Lecturer plus the big kicker…I mark English iGCSE for Cambridge International Education and have done since 2014!!! Nope, not enough. I needed either 5 years references from my employers or I needed to show 5 years of higher education study in an English speaking country. Nigeria is not classed an an English speaking country so my degree is not good enough. In Nigeria if you cannot speak English, you basically cannot get by or function. We have over 200 distinct languages and of course, we all don’t speak each others language. Anyway, grouse for another day. My HR manager did find it very amusing! We were given 1 weeks to complete this task. Andrew duly emailed the lady and said that time was not enough. She came back and said to take all the time we need. This meant I had to be up at crazy hours to contact UK employers and sort out my references. Luckily, my NZ HR manager was happy to send all the references the college received to the CM. Problem solved. Phew!

3 months in…we’re still waiting! Watch this space!

Obligatory picture of new house included here!

House BB

Christchurch and the West Coast, June 2018

I have a 2 day work trip to Christchurch for the 21st of June. I requested if I could be booked on a flight back on the Sunday and the answer was a resounding yes! So I booked tickets for the rest of the family to join me on the Friday after work. I finished work early on the Friday and we went sightseeing in Christchurch. It was a balmy -4 degrees!

Saturday morning, we head off for Franz Josef Glacier via Arthur’s Pass. There is really nothing I can say that can do justice to the scenery and landscape. I took so many pictures! It is a fabulous 4 hour drive to Franz Josef. The skies were clear and the sun was out! We spent the night in Hokitika and made the return journey back to the Airport on Sunday. We hired a car from Christchurch airport. I thought the North Island was stunning. This part of the South Island…I can see why LOTR was filmed here! It’s so surreal and ethereal.

I am now trying to book a swap for January so we can plan a proper road trip round the whole of the South Island. Watch this space!

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No introduction needed!

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Same here!

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Road Trip! Yay!

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Otira Gorge with fancy drainage over the viaduct

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Draining the mountains!

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Franz Josef Glacier in the background

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Arthur’s Pass

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-4 degrees photo. It was freezing!

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Mid trip snack

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ChCh airport is surprisingly well set up for children!

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More airport playground

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Our own kind of ChCh street art

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A Kea. Awesomely fearless

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Street Art innit?!

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Exploring the cafes of Christchurch

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The Southern Alps from the air

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More Southern Alps

Sydney, June 2018

There’s another bank holiday coming up and in true Joy fashion, I think we need a trip! The official Queen’s birthday is bank holiday in New Zealand which when you think of it is weird as no one gets a day off for the Queen’s birthday in the UK! Anyway, it means a 4 day week for us in the first week of June!

We had planned to go to the Gold Coast with Andrew and I even organised a swap in Brisbane. Of course it turned out that Andrew would be working 18 hour days over the Commonwealth Games period, we decide to shelve the trip for some other time when he could spend some time doing touristy things with us.

The gods are listening, I got an email from one of the very numerous flight deals website I subscribe to and it was cheap return flights to Sydney! I booked! For the week of the Queen’s birthday! Cynthia opted to head to Hawaii instead for the week and who can blame her! The next task was to find accommodation. Now, accommodation is very pricy in Sydney. I was determined to arrange a successful swap. I must have sent over 35 requests on a combination of websites. I finally got 2 positive replies from Love Home Swap. After some deliberation, we decided to go for the house that seemed set up for children too. It was also fairly central which we thought was a bonus. It wasn’t!

3rd of June came by fairly swiftly. We had booked an early morning flight so we had the full first day for some sightseeing as Sydney is 2 hours behind Auckland. It was pouring down as we left the house at 5am to catch our 7am flight. We were also flying Jetstar, a budget airline and I refused to pay for seats so heading in early to ensure we were sat together was our plan. We checked in, cleared security and I changed the children from pyjamas to day clothes and we had some breakfast. I had expected a Ryanair, no frills kind of airline. We were pleasantly surprised. The seats were a reasonable size, we were offered early boarding and water free of charge – very important. Food was an extra charge but I had a full bag of snacks anyway. We arrived Sydney bright and early, picked up our hired car and went to find our lodgings. Car hire was surprisingly cheap in Australia. We paid less than $500 for 7 seater 4 x 4 including car seats. It was also a newish car with less than 20k km on the clock.

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Sydney from the air

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Waiting to pick up the car. Some people were tired from the flight!

We got to Woollahra and there met our first shock. We could find no parking spaces longer than 2 hours! We drove round and round and round and then decided to park in a 2 hour spot so we could at least get our stuff into the house. Luckily someone pulled out of an all day slot – there are just 4 all day slots! – and we managed to park there. We got ourselves in and were welcomed to a very lovely, spacious and nicely decorated Victorian terraced house. It instantly transported me back to the UK. We almost bought a Victorian house in Bacton, Norfolk. I imagined this is what it would have looked like. There were lots of original features and it was located on a leafy street. We quickly established there was 1. No proper tea – there were lots of the herbal, wishy washy fruity teas and 2. There was no milk!

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Jersey Street where we stayed.

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Our little courtyard garden

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Whilst deliberating what to do, the cleaner turned up! She came with her 2 children and was able to tell us where to find the nearest shops. It was just round the corner through the courtyard. We noticed there was a garage behind the house and unmarked parking spaces so Andrew ran off and re-parked the car there. My cousin Cindi – Cindi in Sydney haha – was joining us for the trip from Brisbane. We had not seen Cindi since our wedding in 2011 so were looking forward to spending the week with her.

Day 2 – The house is very comfortable. A bit cold as there was no central heating but there were portable heaters which seemed to work well. We decided to drive round briefly to get our bearings. We got to the car and were welcomed with a parking fine! Of a whopping $257!!! What a welcome! It was also pouring with rain which meant we couldn’t really see much.

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Day 3  – We went to Kirribilli, Manly Beach and the surrounding areas and drove through the harbour bridge. It rained on and off. Mostly off but it was very cloudy.

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Day 4 – We spent exploring the neighbourhood on foot. Centennial park is a must see. It is a massive park with lots and lots to do. We spent the better park of the whole day there. The weather was also very nice so we walked and didn’t have to play parking roulette.

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Well the winter wasn’t wintery enough!

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A very unwell Vivi

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Day 5 – We head out of town for the Blue Mountains. It was a 2 hour drive from Woollahra. Most of the first hour spent driving through Sydney. The traffic is something else. Good thing we don’t live here! We love the Blue Mountains! It’s a must see.

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Three sisters

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We spent our last day exploring Sydney city centre.

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Mrs Macquarie’s Seat

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All in all, it was a week well spent. I was also marking the 2018 iGCSE and had 10 days to mark 285 scripts in addition being a tourist! The upside is, we have money to pay the parking fine haha. I wouldn’t want to live in Sydney. It’s a bit too much like London. Very busy, full of history and tourists like me! Lots of up and coming suburbs – those will be the areas we would be able to afford to live in so no.

Back to Auckland!

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A reminder of the UK in Sydney airport!

9 months in…

Winter is here!!!!

And so begins our first winter in NZ. We live in a leaky home! All over NZ, there are lots and lots of homes that are not very waterproof due to the kind of cladding that has been used. We have a similar kind of cladding on our top balcony. This balcony forms the roof for the spare bedroom under it – Cynthia’s room and the dining room. It also runs the whole length of the front of the house so from end to end. It is a massive balcony. When we moved in, the balcony felt very springy and spongy when you walk on it, with pockets of large raised bubbly pockets dotted about. I emailed the agents telling them I felt it needed looking at as one of the bubbly pockets had split open and you could see loose debris under it. My concern was 2 fold. Leaks and the children poking at it making it wider. Needless to say that email was ignored. As we used the balcony, the pockets popped open – pressure from our movements I guess. December we went off on our jaunts and returned home to a thunder and rainstorm on the 2nd of January with a wall of water pouring down the inside wall of the bedroom under the balcony.

After some frantic phone calls and some very rubbish solutions from the estate agents – she suggested I go buy some tarpaulin and nail it down. Me? How would I even know what tarp to get or what nails to use??? With the aid of buckets, we kept some of the water off the carpets. Honestly it was like being back in the hostel in Unijos! 2 days and many hauled buckets of water later, a tradesman came to look at it and nailed some tarpaulin down. His verdict? Pull down the house! The cost of repairs will be greater than the cost of building a new house from scratch! 5 months, more leaking spots including through the light fixtures, several meters of mould growth, several more tradesmen (9) and a threat to take the landlord to a tenancy tribunal, we finally managed to get the landlord to see sense and let us break the tenancy agreement so we could find another house to move to.

So we’re house hunting again! Remember how I hated house hunting the first time round? Well I hate it even more now! We were settled in our current place and had no plans to leave for a good few years. It’s back to being herded, a million at a time through a house and all given 15 minutes to view the property at the same time. Then being hassled and pressured to apply as some viewers come with pre-completed application forms! I think it’s why we missed crucial evidence this house needed some work but then it was still in a better shape than 90% of the houses we viewed! It’s winter and in most houses you can smell the mould and damp from miles away! That can only be a good thing though. I do not want to move again for at least 3 years!

We’ve done 3 weekends of viewings and noticed a few interesting things. The houses in the countryside seem better maintained. They are certainly larger and cheaper especially with a lot more garden space. The estate agents seem to also be more personable and approachable. I guess those houses take longer to rent so they have their work cut out for them. They have largely allowed us choose our own viewing times which never happens for viewings in suburban areas or the city.

Like everything else in NZ, the cost of moving is coming in at a very astronomical level. Andrew’s maths is that it shouldn’t cost us more than a month’s rent. The first quote we received blew that theory out of the water. It came to a whooping $4200 for a full packing service from Murrays Bay to Dairy Flat. It is 20 minutes away in serious traffic. To put this in context, an international move for our stuff will cost only about $2-3000 more. For the first time ever, we may have to pack up ourselves. I have no annual leave left, neither does Andrew waah! At this rate, it will be way, way cheaper to employ someone and pay them minimum wage for 2 days to pack up the house for us! Now that’s a thought!

We decide to draw up a list. In case you haven’t noticed, we very much love our pros and cons lists! We are determined to rent the right house this time. We are also determined to pursue the dream we came here for so we will be moving to the countryside!

Watch this space! Onwards and upwards!

We have settled into the swing of living here now. I’m in the PTA – don’t ask! We haven’t made much friends but who needs friends anyway? Friends…what is that? I don’t see any! Oh, I tell a lie. I’ve made a good friend in my manager. Quite weird actually as I hate to mix work and personal life but in this case, we have bonded over the general aloof friendliness of people here. Who needs friends anyway?! Yes, I am still homesick! Many times, I wish we could pack up and head home. Only now I’m not quite sure where home is for me. Is it Nigeria or the UK? Or is it somewhere else? I’m really struggling with the time zones. However, we are putting another immigration application…

The children are settled and happy, we have a good routine going. Agaba absolutely loves school. It’s excellent that we don’t have to potentially save to send him to the kind of school I would have preferred for him to go to. We have that for free! Ok we have to pay by donations by force but it’s still highly subsidised by the government. He’s not only thriving, his speech is coming on in leaps and bounds. Onyaidu keeps having massive tantrums at not being left behind with him so school time will come for them sooner rather than later! It’s a shame there’s a waiting list for the girls – well there’s the small issue of money, it would cost us at least $550 a week for both girls to attend 5 mornings a week and a minimum of $132 for them to attend 2 mornings a week…

Glue gun

Tiger Slug

God knows I would have shrieked, then happily squashed this one! Didn’t know it even had a name! Tiger Slug 2

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We are also on the hunt for a new au pair! Cynthia leaves in August and we need a replacement before she goes so we need someone to start at the end of July. It’s proving a lot more difficult than last year. It seems expectations are lot higher. I’m also having quite a few vegan applicants. In my best British accent – I’m afraid that will not work! The girls now want to work with only school age children, they want their flights paid for, (I’m surprised they’re not asking to have their visa paid for as well!) they want well over what a nanny (fully qualified) will charge! I’m beginning to think I may just bite the bullet and go for a nanny. I have 2 potential interviews for this weekend and I hope I have someone sorted by Monday as the earlier they book their flights, the cheaper it will be! And no, I’m not paying for anyone’s flights! The number one specification of the WHV application is to have at least $4000 in your account to pay for flights to and fro and living expenses. Wish me luck! Oh ye heavens, laws of attractions, good karma and everything in between, please send me luck and give me wings and a brilliant au pair. Make me third time lucky!

I went to the doctor this month – I’d been putting off that appointment for over 3 months. For quite a few reasons.

  1. I will have to pay back the time taken off work to attend the appointment.
  2. Ethan has a few appointments so that quickly adds up
  3. It will cost me over $100 for the doctor’s visit

I did go and yes it cost me $110 for the doctor’s appointment. Ouch! I should suck it up really. It was only the cost of 2 takeaway meals for the whole family! I also had to go somewhere else for the blood tests. It was futuristic enough that I also got my test results online within a few days. So I’ll quit whinging about the cost and just count my blessings that I have immediate access to good healthcare full stop!

Oh did I mention it’s winter?

There seems to be a very popular opinions among New Zealanders that New Zealand is a tropical country all year round. Lies! Lies I tell you! It is very very cold in the winter. I am currently wearing my UK winter coat daily! The tips of my ears and fingers are burning from the cold. Add the no central heating, no insulation, no double glazing and very big windows and you get the idea of how cold it is in the house. It is usually as cold inside as it is outside. Now this would not have bothered me much if at least I can sun myself during the day but it has been raining  – no scratch that – the heavens have been opened non stop everyday for the last 2 weeks. Full on torrential rain. Lots of condensation on the windows. I can mop enough water off all our windows for a full shower daily. At the risk of being lynched *hides*, New Zealand is not a tropical country! We are all sleeping in full flannel pyjamas, a 13 tog duvet and an extra blanket. I take it one step further and wear socks to bed. I have not done that since 2006! Nuff said…

We’re off to Sydney soon. Let’s go check out Australia!