Saturday, April 2, 2016

Here we go again

On Monday, we’re heading off on our 6th New Zealand camp with the kids from school and I’ve been struggling with motivation. Its not that I don’t love NZ and its not that I don’t love the opportunity to share that with the kids, its just that after 11 years the novelty has worn off a bit. The planning of such a big adventure is hard work and sometimes the thought of the responsibility of looking after other people’s kids in another country for 12 days weighs fairly heavily. Yesterday, someone (with the very best of intentions) told me they hoped we had a great holiday. A holiday?? I felt like saying, “Yep, next time you have some time off let me know and I’ll organize for you to take 25 teen/tweenagers with you”. This trip is many wonderful things but it’s not a holiday!

At the other end of the motivation spectrum, Taine is very excited because this is the first time he’ll travel on the camp in his own right. Despite having been on the previous 5 trips, now he’s a legitimate student aged traveler and gets to enjoy the experience with his own friends. Bonus for us, he’s saved up his own spending money

Just in time, Facebook (maybe Zuckerberg really can read moods) has started bringing up my daily photo memories from 7 years, 5 years and 2 years ago and everyone of them is of a smiling face on NZ camp.
So, to get me in the upbeat frame of mind needed to enjoy the next 12 days (and stop thinking about how I’ll manage the exhaustion of the rest of the term when we get back!), I’ve been having a nostalgic look back at the photos of the previous trips, to remind myself of the amazing adventures taken with amazing people.

Our first trip was way back in 2005. The aim (as it still is) was to provide an economical and affordable overseas opportunity that was accessible for all our students. On that first trip we landed in Wellington and then had to drive all the way up the Nth Island. We flew with Virgin and Pacific Blue and had to change planes in Sydney. We had one kid whose passport hadn’t arrived before school finished and we had to get my cousin in Melbourne to collect it so we could get it on the way to the airport. Another one of the kids was so air sick that the cabin crew threatened to ground us and then a passport crisis almost resulted in us missing our connection in Sydney. Our rental vans were crap and struggled up the hills. Pat left his lights on the first night and had a flat battery. The place we stayed in Otaki thought we were bringing our own bedding (on a plane???) and had to scrounge to find covers for us. It poured rain in Turangi (the gumboot capital of NZ ) and the then 18 mth old Taine got an ear infection and screamed his way across the Desert Rd.

Despite all this we had a wonderful time and realized that 10 days away in another country is one of the biggest learning curves a child can experience. Each one of them overcame personal fears and a little bit of homesickness and learnt to get along with kids and adults of different ages. As is always the case with extra curricula activities, as teachers we discovered strengths in kids that could never be seen in a regular classroom. We covered a lot of ground, traveling as far as Waitomo and Raglan before we headed back down to Otaki (where thankfully they had bedding waiting for us) and back to Wellington to fly home. The kapahaka kids in the group performed at Whakarewarewa and Hell’s Gate and they even did a haka on the plane on the way home.
Remarkably, when we got home, TVNZ sent a production crew all the way to Mortlake to make a documentary about our ‘Maori Aussies’.

Rotorua is a perfect base for us; it’s central to a variety of attractions, the sulphur’s great for my arthritis and the spiritual beauty of the place always affects our travelers in a positive way. Despite its ‘Roto Vegas’ nickname there’s an amazing calmness about the place that has everyone smiling, most of the time.

Learning from our first experience, in 2007 we extended the trip to 12 days and decided to fly in and out of Auckland to save on traveling time. In 2009 we moved around the lake to Ngongotaha and the Waiteti Caravan Park. This was a (very) slight upscaling in accommodation, with only 3 or 4 kids to a room and a couple of stoves that actually worked. In 2011 we started recording the trips with our ‘happy dance’ and in 2014 we switched to people movers instead of vans, making it much easier to pick up groceries.

Over the years we’ve added and subtracted different activities, settling on some permanent favourites like Kerosine Creek, the luge and Waimarino kayak centre, throwing in different boiling mud experiences, taking in a rugby game when the fixture coincides and adding something new whenever we can to keep our own experience fresh.

Depending on the exchange rate we eat like kings or dine on spaghetti and baked beans. We swim in hot pools every day and try to blend some adventure activities with Maori culture and an appreciation of the magnificent natural beauty of the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

We’ve managed gastro outbreaks, travel sickness, tonsillitis and hospitalized appendicitis. Twice we’ve taken kids with broken bones – the vision of us getting Tiare in and out of the hot water beach with his leg cast wrapped in garbage bags is a lasting one!

We’ve been blessed on every trip with a wonderful group of parents and accompanying teachers. They all bring their own special talents to the group and over the years we’ve had great drivers, first aiders, fishermen, photographers, bargain spotters, launderers and best of all great cooks. On the first trip, Glenise whipped up a roast for 40 in a couple of fry pans, Jackie was like our own personal chef for 3 trips, Sue and Chesne could have the lunch rolls made before I got the glad wrap untangled and Ross’s porridge was so good it had its own daily Facebook updates. In my wild fantasies I imagine a reunion trip where we just relive the camp with all of them together (and maybe leave the kids at home) Or we could just wait until the kids all grow up. After coming twice as a school student, this year Lucy is joining us as a student teacher- how quickly the circle turns!

And so tomorrow we’ll get up at stupid o’clock and Geoff and I will look at each other and silently ask the same questions we’ve asked on the eve of the other 5 trips – “What are we doing? Are we mad? What if…”– and then we’ll get to the airport and see all those expectant, slightly apprehensive faces and get really excited for the adventure that lies ahead.

This year (in case it’s the last camp – because I always say this will be my last camp!), I’m going to blog the trip on my travel blog for Fodors so that other prospective travelers can benefit from our experience. Feel free to follow along and enjoy the adventure with us.

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