Waiheke Island

A look back to Auckland, en route to Waiheke

My right ear is buzzing as I write this.  It’s enough to drive one mad – or at least me, mad.  It’s hard to describe.  It’s like there’s a tiny vacuum cleaner in my head.  Not my entire head, more like it is inside my right ear.  And not a constant buzz, but rather one that you’d imagine if someone was Hoovering away inside.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  It won’t go away.  It’s just there and it pulses.  I ask “why”, but I’ll likely never know other than it has something to do with the immune system challenges I’ve struggled with over the last several years.


Of course I forget about the “wrrrr-wrrrr” at times and then I hear it and I realize the vacuuming never went away.  It just momentarily faded into the background. The sound re-emerges, pulsating as though some clean-freak was trying to pick up every last crumb in the nooks and crannies of my grey matter.  As I said, mad.


This buzzing is more than highly reminiscent of several years ago when I was in the midst of figuring out what was wrong.  In fact, it brings me directly back to those times and makes me shutter.  Despite some wonderful life-events, it’s been a tough few years.


6 years ago and 8 months pregnant, my mother died.  She was in Colorado and I was on the east coast.  In other words she was in  a state far enough away from my home in NYC that I could not go to her funeral.  My family and I “celebrated” her life that summer.  I had my infant in tow.  Mom leaving me was pure devastation.   A year after that, my father followed her.  A month after being left parentless, I discovered I was expecting again.  Later the next year, I gave birth to a beautiful boy.  My mother dies, I give birth to a daughter.  My father dies, a son.  Life is funny that way.


Directly after Judah was born I started getting sick. He was born in August and I remember being sick at Halloween.  And again at Thanksgiving.  And again on our December vacation.  I began to mark holidays by whether or not I was sick.  Or at least I did that until they all blurred together because I was always sick.


Halloween – Talia a butterfly, Judah a caterpillar.  Me sick.

Thanksgiving – up to Grandma’s house. Sick.

Christmas – down to Dominican Republic.  Sick.

President’s Day – who knows what I was doing, but I guarantee you I was sick.


What do I mean by sick?  Nothing extraordinary really.  Sinus infections.  Bronchitis.  Snotty noses and coughing.  Lots of mucous and hacking.  A fever most days.  I wasn’t very popular in elevators.  New York has lot’s of elevators.


I continued through life; I just wasn’t myself.  It’s not possible to be 100%  when you haven’t slept, can’t breathe, can’t smell and can’t get out a full sentence without choking on phlegm.  TMI perhaps.  And I don’t mean to make light of it or sound morose.  Fact is, this was a tough time for me personally and it was isolating; it was trying in many surprising ways.


To the world, I had a cold.  To me, I was suffering yet another occurrence of something I couldn’t explain and of something that made me less than I was meant to be.  I was demoralized to be sure.  This something made me want to crawl into bed and attempt sleep, but I knew that sleep would evade me and I was sure I’d miss something special.  It isn’t a part of my DNA to miss life so my sicknesses became part of who I was as a mom, wife and friend.  There were plenty of times when I’d be merrily going about my life when from one moment to the next I realized it was happening.  Like the onset of a migraine.  Fine one moment, not the next.


Saturday mornings when I was ready to play mom after a hard week’s work (but I could barely drag myself out of bed, much less enjoy my kids).  Holidays that I looked forward to, but that then became weeks to endure (away from home and comforting familiarities).  On several occasions I had to visit doctors in foreign countries because my body gave way to some invisible force. Armon would look at me with pity and sadness and insist on calling a physician.  Always congested, often feverish and nearly always tired.  I was functional, but I was miserable.


I know now what I didn’t know then and most days my “health” is under control.  It’s thrilling to be able to say that and to feel excited about life again.  But man, this buzzing is driving me crazy.  It started a few days ago and it won’t leave.  It’s the exact same buzzing I had for 2 years straight.  I know it well.


Why is it back?  Airplanes?  Swimming?  Medication time?  Who knows.  But as I sit down to write about our trip to Waiheke I do know that I am acutely aware of this wrrrr’ing in my head.


Part II


So to begin with (and perhaps the cutest part of this story), Judah pronounces Waiheke like this “Why-Eekie!”.  The way he says it, his pronunciation and his tone, make Waiheke sound more like some sort of rodent proclamation than a beautiful island inhabited by less than 10,000 people.  Even this cute fact carries with it additional charm in the context of the past 6 years.


We made it to Auckland recently; Austere Auckland is what comes to mind.  It was “nice” (what you say about someone when there’s nothing more interesting to say).  Mollies (our hotel) was sincerely stellar and we found some local gems – but Auckland lacks passion.


Waiheke, which is an island just a stone’s throw from Auckland, is a different story.    Passion and beauty abound.   Why the difference?  Who knows – sometimes asking “why” is a waste of time.


If you count sunrise to bedtime as a day, we only spent a single one on the island.  But it may as well have been three days.  We filled this one to the brim until it was overflowing.


First, we had a scrumptious breakfast at Mollies and then we set off for the ferry.  Our taxi driver was late and then drove without urgency.  This guy would last less than 3 hours in NYC.  As a result of his tempo, we had several anxious moments of “are we going to make it?” while he meandered toward our Waiheke bound ferry.   Finally, we made it with 6 minutes to spare, literally.


Buy the tickets, run to the boat….  Make it on board as they begin calling for us to depart.

All aboard!


We sat on the very top with wind in our hair and freedom of the water below us.  And then looked at each other and said “Well, this is dumb. It’s f*%(%!# freezing up here!”  So down we went.  Into the cabin we flew.  Here we could be away from the breeze, watch out the window, buy snacks and chat without having to scream.  Up top was nice in theory alone.


I was happy to escape the cold, the kids were happy with windows and chips and Armon was happy to meet new friends.

He was talking real estate with some NZ retirees before our trip expired.


It was a speedy journey (more like a snack than a meal) and off the boat we strolled 30 minutes later.


Stephanie was visible from the boat.  She was waiting for us when we docked.  We kissed and hugged and said our hellos.  It was great to see a familiar face.  You see, Stephanie is one of my in-laws’ best friends.  She is part of the “Big Chill” crowd that they hang with… She is married to Jim and they now live on Waiheke Island.  We couldn’t come to New Zealand and not spend some time with them.  They are nearly family.  As an added benefit, they live on Waiheke.


Waiheke is like the Hamptons, but not.  It is closer to the city and is an island onto itself.  It’d be like Shelter Island moving due west, popping up in White Plains one day.  Add in some great galleries, thirst-quenching vineyards and sun-drenched beaches and well, you get the idea.  It is convenient yet isolated, reminiscent of days gone by, but with modern luxuries.  It is no wonder Stephanie and Jim fell in love when they visited and bought their house on the spot several years ago.


Stephanie instantly whisked us away to a vineyard that she likes.  She told us about the island as we whizzed through the street’s turns and curves, climbing onto a hilltop.  It was magnificent.  The water below, lush vines, flowers, bees, trees, herbs.  A rich and flourishing landscape.


It was 10:30 in the morning and we were in the tasting room.  Big Chill indeed.  While we were swirling Syrah, Talia and Judah were discovering parsley of all things.  They found a bush somewhere between the parking lot and the tasting room and were chomping away on a herb that they’d never touch in Manhattan.  Funny how far a parent has to go to get kids to eat green.  I didn’t dare say a word.  I just mused to myself, “If you want Waiheke herbs, then Waiheke herbs you shall have.” For whatever reason Waiheke parsley must taste different from the Manhattan variety.


Once the had their fill of green leaves, they moved onto collecting flowers and brought me a bouquet of fresh buds. One had a caterpillar on it and that became their center of attention until it was time to go.


Park time


To the park.  Stephanie drove down the hill, through town and then parked at their local beach (she and Jim walk to this beach each evening for a swim).  We walked barefoot in the sand until we reached a playground for the kids.  They had a ball.  They spun and climbed and darted in and out.  They were just being kids, not kids on a massive adventure and move to France.  We had to drag them away.


But it was time to meet Jim at the house so drag we did.  He had just arrived on the 11am ferry after having gone to Auckland earlier in the day for a meeting.  His arrival signaled lunch time.


We piled back into the car and headed up the hill to Stephanie and Jim’s house.  I should have taken more pictures, but then again – photos would not do the house justice.  It sits high atop a hill on the island, overlooking rolling pastures and farmland until the green disappears into the sea.  It is a magical sort of place that seems ideally suited for the movies (and for them).  No wonder they fell in love.  It was like meeting a friend’s new boyfriend for the first time and knowing the new couple is made for each other.


After the tour we headed off to lunch.  Another vineyard, but this one with pizza and kids toys in the yard (in addition to wine and good conversation).  ”Delish” pretty much sums it up.


Next up, more touring, a latte, ice cream and a romp on the beach.


It was late afternoon now…so we headed back to the house.  Dillon, Stephanie’s 13 yr old grandson was home from school.   We all took a rest, read and prepared for the day’s next phase.  Judah even crashed for a bit.


It’s been nearly 10 years since I met Dillon.  He came to our wedding and was about Judah’s age back then.  Like Judah, he was an adorable, precocious little boy who knew how to work the crowd and be the center of attention.  We have some great pictures in our album of him playing on the floor and trying to take pictures with the professional camera (which was nearly his size).


Dillon’s grown up a lot over the past decade.  A typical teenager in many ways, he’s a big kid now. Even through the teenage tough guy act, you can tell he’s got a great heart.  He took to Judah (and Judah to him).  Dillon basically became Judah’s big brother for the night.  It was adorable to say the least.


Rest in hand it was time to wake Judah up and head to an art showing on the island to begin our night.  Judah would have none of that however – so he lay in my lap angel-faced and sleeping through the entire party.  Talia met some local girls and played in the vineyard while Armon socialized with Stephanie and Jim and their friends.


After all we’d done, we could have called it a day – but no.  Out excursion to Waiheke was not for the faint of heart and we were off to another vineyard and then off to dinner.  The kids were T-R-O-O-P-E-R-S (all capitals, yes).

Dinner time


We had dinner with Stephanie, Jim, Dillon, and some friends of theirs.  Exhausted, but wanting to fit it all in we persevered.  Like everything else about Waiheke, it was scrumptious and time seemed to stand still.  It was a perfect summer night and the richness of the food and wine was intoxicating in the setting sun.  So much so that we missed our ferry.


The 9:30 boat came and went and we sat there eating and talking, oblivious to the missed deadline.  Last resort, the last ferry – wasn’t for an hour and a half.  Ugh.  Have another glass, tell another story, play hide and seek with the kids and order toothpicks for your eyelids because sleep is still a long ways off.


We savored the night and the company and the sights and sounds of this lovely piece of earth.  And we can say we lived this day to its fullest without a doubt.  Full until over-flowing in fact.  We rode the ferry back with a bunch of young folk (probably heading to Auckland for the night) and some families that, like us, had probably lost track of the night.  By the time we docked, it was nearly midnight, raining and the kids were fast asleep in our arms.  Deja vu, we jumped back into a taxi to retrace our steps from 16 hours earlier.


Finally, Mollies.  Bed.  Sleep.  And dreams of rolling hills, great friends and life.  No need to ask “why”.


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