Banana tree.

bunch of bananas

Living on campus at Laidlaw College becomes a lot more exotic when you find out that you share turf with a banana tree.  That’s right- a real, living, banana-producing banana tree has roots on Laidlaw property.

Although bananas do grow in the warmer, subtropical parts of NZ, the bananas in the supermarket are primarily imports from Ecuador or the Phillipines.  It is rare to come across locally grown bananas in most parts of NZ.

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We had not laid eyes on a banana tree until our lovely neighbour in East Wing, Jaime, explained that the banana leaf she used to line the bowl of her delicious curry came from a tree on campus.

Amazed by this news, we went out in search of this banana tree one evening.

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After a little bit of searching, we found it.  Just inside the entrance to the college stands this glorious banana tree.

banana tree

If you look close enough, you can see two bunches of bananas growing.

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Yep, there they are!

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Here is yet another selling point for East Wing: Live here and pick your own bananas, fresh off the tree out front.

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Oh wait, it’s actually…

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Only 9 weeks left in New Zealand!!!  It’s a tough thing to wrap our heads around at this point.  As the Kiwis say, it’s something we have “two minds” about…

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All we know is the time is going WAY too fast!

The beginning of the ‘lasts’: New Chums.

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We have begun the season of the ‘lasts’- last visits here and there, last excursions, last roadtrips.  New Zealand is full of beautiful places that our hearts would rather not say goodbye to.

During the final week of the summer holidays, we made what was likely our last trip to the Coromandel Peninsula (for a while anyways), in search of a beach known as ‘New Chums.’

Although hailed by The Observer in 2006 as one of the world’s top 20 beaches, New Chums is apparently a well-kept secret, even among New Zealanders.  Surprisingly, many of the Aucklanders we spoke to had never visited nor heard of this beach.   Perhaps this is due to the fact that it takes a bit of extra effort to get to.

Here’s our guide to reaching New Chums Beach.

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From charming Coromandel town, drive approximately 10km East on Whangapoua Road road until you reach the north end of Whangapoua Beach.

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With your gear on your back (and perahps a picnic lunch), cross the stream and head towards the rocks.

*The sign at the entrance of the beach states that it is recommended that New Chums not be accessed two hours before and after high tide.  It turns out that it can indeed be accessed regardless of the tide; you just might get a little more wet if you choose to cross at high tide.

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Carefully make your way along the rocky shoreline and around the headland.  You will eventually find a marked trail which will provides a more stable tramping surface.

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Follow the trail in and amongst Nikau palms and Pohutukawas for approximately 10 minutes until you come to a clearing.

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Before you know it, the sound of crashing ocean waves and the sight of pristine, white sand will welcome you to New Chums.

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There are no amenities at New Chums- no store, no toilets, no rubbish bins- just pure beach.  Visitors must carry out what they carry in.

It was warm but overcast the day we visited New Chums, so we did not get to experience New Chums in all its full glory.  We did, however, note its potential to be absolutely amazing on a warm, sunny day.

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The towering cliffs surrounding the beach and the hike in and made you feel like you had reached some sort of exotic destination, far removed from society.   It is a great destination for surfers- or at least those willing to carry their boards on the 30 minute hike along the rocky shoreline.

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The 30 minute hike in and out is well worth the effort to spend a day, or half a day, on a perfect, unspoiled beach in your own slice of paradise.

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We highly recommend you do not leave the Coromandel without a stop at the Coromandel Mussel Kitchen.  This local eating establishment, located just a few kilometers south of Coromandel town, is unique in its ability to collect, cultivate, harvest, cook and serve to you, their own green lipped mussels.

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We enjoyed a green thai curry mussel pot, and were very impressed with the beautiful flavours and quality ingredients present in this dish.  Not being the hugest mussel fans, we thought these mussels were excellent.  Probably the best we have tried in NZ.  They also had a good selection of local craft beers and wines, and prices were definitely reasonable.  Definitely recommend you pay Coromandel Mussel Company a visit if you are in the area!

Thanks, Coromandel, for a lovely last adventure…

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Hearts unmapped.

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It’s official- we are moving back to Canada.  To those of you who have journeyed closely with us, this is no surprise.  We have always known that our time here in NZ would be temporary.  Despite many attempts by friends and co-workers to get us to stay, we are keeping our promises to return to our families and friends in Edmonton.  Do we love NZ?  Yes.  We have absolutely loved and cherished our time here.  Although we are sad to see this chapter of our lives come to an end, we can look back with no regrets.  Having visited almost all regions of NZ, we feel very blessed and satisfied with what we have been able to accomplish here, and how we have lived our lives.  There are people who have etched their way into our hearts, and whom we will be very sad to leave. This place will always be special to us, and we will probably always reminisce about the days shared in this land of beaches, flat whites, and Pohutukawa trees.

As we begin to wrap up our time here in New Zealand, we look forward to things to come.  Our hearts are overjoyed to once again be in close proximity to our family and friends in Alberta, and we are delighted to reacquaint ourselves with the fine city of Edmonton.

Upon our return in early summer 2013, Brendon will continue his thesis writing from there, and Mel hopes to find some sort of summer employment, and hopefully secure a teaching job come September.  We’d love to find a cute, little apartment (hopefully in a somewhat central location) to call home, and we look forward to exploring our home city with new eyes- more thoroughly this time.

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It all feels a little strange at the moment- the thought of leaving, and the thought of being back in Canada.  Perhaps this whole experience will seem like some crazy sort of dream once we return…

So the journey is not ending; it is continuing.  Hence, the new name: hearts unmapped.  Although we will no longer be living “abroad,” we hope to continue to live with the same mindset of taking full advantage of the moments we find ourselves in and opportunities that are put in front of us, regardless of what continent we find ourselves on.

Zucchini “noodles” topped with pesto vege & chorizo “sauce”.

Communal kitchen.

Ah, the communal kitchen…

To be honest, sharing the East Wing kitchen hasn’t been that bad so far.  The other tenents are pretty respectful, and other than a bit of crowding around the peak dinner hour, there hasn’t been too much need to fight over pots, pans, or the functional burner on the stove.  The kitchen is generally left in a very tidy state, so that’s one huge thing to be thankful for.

On more than one occasion since our return to East Wing have we enjoyed a delicious dinner of yellow zucchini “noodles” topped with a pesto vege & chorizo “sauce.”

One of my FAVORITE dishes that Brendon makes involves fennel, chorizo, and my all-time favorite condiment- pesto. We used to have this dish with a stuffed pasta, such as spinach ricotta ravioli, but since I’m avoiding grains, Brendon suggested we substitute the pasta with sliced zucchini. BRILLIANT idea, Brendon.

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This nutrient-packed (and paleo) dish holds wide array of delicious flavours and textures. To be completely honest, I didn’t miss the pasta one bit!  As a note, the sauce is not very saucy, and is more of a “topping” really, hence the word “sauce” in quotation marks.

Zucchini noodles

Pesto Vege & Chorizo “Sauce” (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized fennel bulbs, diced
1 red bell pepper/capsicum
2 portabello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bunch (approx. 3 cups) of silverbeet, chopped
1 stick chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
100ml pesto
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until onions begin to brown.
2. Add garlic, fennel, capsicums, and mushrooms. Continue cooking over medium heat 5 minutes more.                                                                                                           3. Add in chorizo and silverbeet. Cook 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to season.
4. Add approximately 2/3 of the pesto. Toss lightly.

Zucchini pasta

Yellow Zucchini “Noodles”

Ingredients:

Zucchini/courgettes, cut in half and then sliced in thin strips- approx. 3mm thick. (*one medium sized zucchini per person should do it!)  (**We used yellow zucchini, as it was available, but green is just as good!)
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

1. Salt water and bring to a boil. When the “sauce” is nearly done, toss zucchini strips into boiling water and cook just until tender- 3-5 minutes. Try not to over-cook. Drain water and spoon onto plates. Top with Pesto Vege & Chorizo “sauce”.  A few more small dallops of pesto upon plating will intensify the pesto flavour.  Enjoy!

Ponsonby central.

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An intriguing new development in Auckland is Ponsonby Central.

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Located on 136-138 Ponsonby Road in the hip district of Ponsoby, Ponsonby Central opened its doors just a couple of months ago, and is sure to attract lots of attention once word gets out.

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This unique meeting place houses a couple of cafes, a fresh produce market, and a wide variety of cultural eating establishments.  Thai, Spanish, Japanese, Italian… whatever you fancy, you’re likely to find it at Ponsonby Central.

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Brendon was especially intrigued by El Sizzling Chorizo, an Argentinian BBQ restaurant.  Over an open flame (and for a reasonable price), they will grill your meat as you sit and watch, letting the sizzling sounds and tantalizing aromas overcome your senses.

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This cultural smorgasbord has great style- we really enjoyed the aesthetics of the building, from the concrete walls to the worn, wooden floors, and ample skylights letting in wonderful amounts of natural light.

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There is an outdoor strip between the market and the main building which creates a lovely alleyway for people to enjoy their fare outdoors.

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The local radio station, Ponsonby Radio, runs out of this hub as well, along with a quality local butcher, Neat Meat.

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The place had a fresh, funky vibe to it.  We really liked it, and definitely recommend you visit Ponsonby Central if you havn’t already.  Take a friend a go for lunch!  And stock up on fresh produce while you’re there, as well.

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15 reasons to live in East Wing.

East Wing

1.  You’d like to save a little bit of cash.

Laidlaw College

2.  You’re a student and/or staff at Laidlaw College, and by living on campus, you reduce your morning and afternoon commute time down from 120 minutes to 30 seconds.

3.  You think sharing a kitchen with 15 other people is fun.

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4.  The pure convenience of living across from the world’s biggest (and cheapest) PAKnSAVE.  Grocery shopping just can’t get any easier.

5.  You work in West Auckland, so the commute in to work is very minimal.

6.  East Wing is furnished, and because you eventually plan to move overseas, it allows you the time to sell all of your belongings on TradeMe.

Clothes on the line.

7.  You prefer to dry your underwear naturally on the communal outdoor line.

8.  You like making new friends.

9.  The name East Wing just has such a nice ring to it.  Almost like your favourite tv drama, West Wing.

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10.  You love feijoas and lemons, and realize that there’s one of each of these trees outside your room.  It’s practically like living in an orchard!

11.  You don’t mind a few ants invading your picnic (or your sock drawer).

12.  It’s possible to make those early morning and late night sessions at the gym happen because the Trusts Stadium is located about 100m out your door.

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13.  Going for runs beside pineapple palms just never grows old, and you enjoy the invigorating vibe of the nearby track.  It’s inspiring to train on the same turf where your favorite All Blacks train (on occasion.)

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14.  Laundry is FREE, and available in house!  Doing laundry is no longer an outing that needs to be scheduled into your week, but something can be done while you whip up a batch of cupcakes.  What luxury!

15.  Having experienced it before, you remember the joys of communal living, and decide you’d go back for seconds.

Dwelling place.

It is for some (but not all) of these reasons that we have chosen to reside in East Wing.