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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

School in Opua, NZ

We are nearing the end of our big trip away, and the winter has begun to catch up with us. Despite being based in the winterless North, looking out of the window today at the grey and wet drizzle outside, it looks decidedly wintery to me! Actually we have been surprisingly lucky with the weather to date, as New Zealand has had a bit of an Indian summer! A dip now is not really surprising, given that June weather in NZ is really December weather in the UK. More importantly, and I think to both the boys and my relief, we have finally stopped moving around. Since my last blog, we have set up house in Northland in the Bay of Islands in the far North of New Zealand.

The bay of Islands is one of my favourite parts of New Zealand with a beautiful natural landscape, almost semi tropical bush and a stunning coastline, studded with over 140 islands for the many yachts to explore. The little friendly coves and inlets usually clogged up in a tangle of Mangroves break up the coast that otherwise would be rather imposing, as the hills kind of jut straight out of the sea. The Māori are strong in the area and there are loads of displays of their culture wherever you look.

There is also a lot of historical interest both from the Māori, but also from the early settlers. The first European Capital was in Russel, where I have been going to church in one of the oldest churches in NZ, complete with bullet holes reminding us of a time when that relationship was not exactly cordial!

I do my shopping in a supermarket just past the Waitangi Treaty grounds, where the founding document for the creation of New Zealand was negotiated, and signed and has been argued about ever since. I have made frequent excursions to Kerikeri where early missionaries were first stationed, and where you can visit several of the oldest buildings in NZ. And everywhere you go in Northland you pass Marae and see Māori carvings. We have also made excursions to the West coast of Northland, which is extremely different to the tamer East coast. I love its wilder feel and you could spend hours soaking up the stunning views across Hokianga Harbour with sea mist suspended over the water like you are looking at an oil painting.

We are living in a holiday house or “bach” as they call it here, owned by a very nice family, who used to live here for many years. More specifically, our home is in English Bay, just outside the small town of Opua.

It is about 100 yards down the road to the sea, where you can join the coastal path going in either direction. If you turn right and walk 20 mins down the path you arrive in Opua which is known for its large yachting mariner. At the waterfront you can also catch the ‘wee’ car ferry link to Russel. I say ‘wee’, as it only carries about 10 cars for the 6 min crossing, so not exactly your cross-channel ferry! The kids are both going to Opua school for this term, so for 10 weeks.

I think it has been a really great move, as the school is a similar size and philosophy to their school in England. This means they are getting a chance to get back into the swing of normal life and being in a classroom. So, life is going back to a much more normal state of affairs, with school, clubs, pack lunches etc.

Having said that, it is still a different experience to being at home. For one thing the boys are learning a lot of Māori, as more that half the kids come from a Māori tradition. This means that, apart from learning some of the language, they are being taught some stories, songs and dances, which are brill and usually end with all the kids shouting and sticking their tongues out, and the boys flamboyantly punching the ground, haka style. The teachers are addressed as teacher in Māori so, “Whare.” But ‘Wha’ in Māori is pronounced ‘F’ so ‘Whare’ is actually pronounced “Fire”. This confused me at first, as the boys came home saying their teachers were Fire Ellie and Fire Gemma.

Another feature is that there is a bit more of a feral feel to things around here and they certainly seem to get very muddy by the end of the day. Toby wore out x2 sets of trousers in 3 weeks! Also, kids just don’t seem to wear shoes…ever. I find the barefoot thing particularly interesting.

Toby announced from day one that he was going to engage with his inner kiwi, and never intended to wear shoes again! Although that is absolutely fine here, that approach might get a bit tricky once we get home! But at school here, no one wears shoes, even if they are doing the cross country. Shoes are actually banned inside the classroom, so even the teachers are barefoot. After a few days of getting used to him coming back with grubby feet and dirty toenails, I have begun to get used to it, and I have to say, I am a bit of a fan! As their feet have zero support, you can see them physically working harder and so I guess their feet must be developing more naturally. I think it must massively increase the number of mini adjustments you make in your feet to balance yourself, and I am sure that must make their feet and ankles much stronger and improve their balance. I also think it gives a fantastic sense of freedom and there is something intangible about being so grounded. You experience the texture, relief and temperature of where you are through your sense of touch. This is completely stifled by wearing shoes. People say, “But they might step on glass, or in dog poo, or their feet might get cold”, but I have to say that does not seem to bother them, even though it is quite cold now. As Toby said, “You don’t worry about my hands getting cold, so why do you worry about my feet?” he also says, “ I might cut my hand or put a nail through my finger, but you don’t make me wear thick gloves all the time just in case. You can avoid hurting yourself or stepping where you can see and looking where you are going?” Which is fair comment when you think about it! I must say I have not noticed a huge number of extra foot injuries caused by going bare foot. The only injury Toby has sustained was when he took it to an extreme and set off to gather Oysters barefoot, slicing his foot open on the shells.

They are better now, and I guess he won’t do that again! But the thing I have really noticed, is that not one child in that school shuffles or drags their feet, it would hurt! And this seems to mean that they also have better posture, especially when they run. They are lighter on their feet and run more like a dancer then the normal clomping about I see at home. It is fascinating!  

Anyway, life carries on its merry way, the boys go to school and each afternoon I walk down the coast path to pick them up. We meander back home, often having picked up an ice cream at Opua general store, before we stroll back along the beach, over the board walk, and onto the coastal path that is cut into the cliff. It is about a 25 minute walk, but sometimes takes an hour as the boys explore. They have now named every feature along the route. We pass Near-near-near point, Mac bay, the no entry sign, Near-near point, the triangle, fishing rock, Near point etc before we get home. All rather wonderful! At the weekends we have playdates and go to the beach or go a bit further afield and visit Keri Keri or the Hokianga. But, as far as the boys are concerned, they go on adventures with Sam. Sam is a neighbour who very kindly offered to take the boys fishing when we first arrived. This has now morphed into Sam taking them on various adventures. He is such a nice man and whenever I thank him, he just says he loves seeing their enthusiasm and enjoys going on an adventure with them, compared to watching his grownup kids play on screens!

They have been shooting possums, fishing, oyster hunting, exploring islands, canoeing in the mangroves, gardening, and having campfires. They are constantly saying, “Just going to see Sam!” and then come back 2 hours later, with a target with holes in, or with a bunch of homemade sausages, or explaining how they helped set up the fish smoker. The other day I saw Toby in Sam’s Garden, bee keeping! Got a quick snap as I drove past!

My Mum used to say, relationships we have as a child with adults, who are NOT our parents are very important. I think that is very true, especially where you have two small boys who don’t have a father, so Sam is gold dust to me.

I am beginning to try to get my head around the fact that in 2 weeks’ time we fly home! It is crazy! In some ways, I feel like I have been away for ever and in other ways, it has gone so fast. It has been such a privilege to have that uninterrupted time with the boys and I really think it has given us the space to connect better and hopefully grow as a family. But the problem is that I am not very good at not having a project. This means I find myself feeling proud and guilty at the same time. Proud that I have made this trip happen and that I have managed to keep myself available to the boys by not cluttering up my time doing endless projects for myself. But, I feel guilty that I have failed to make the best use of my time and have not written that book or started that project, that I could have. But I guess that is life, however you decide to play it, you reap the advantages and suffer the consequences. All in all, we have had the most brilliant year, and everything so far (although we do have 2 weeks left for it to unravel!) has gone according to plan. I think we will all remember it forever. But I guess when we get home, the next big adventure will start!! So see you soon!

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