I’ve got some apologising to do. In my last blog I was quite adamant that I couldn’t move to New Zealand because the chocolate was terrible. Well, there’s been a revelation. It’s a real curveball, because it’s an actual contender for chocolate at home. It could almost convince me to pack my bags and apply for my visa today, and it’s called Whittakers. So, to all the kiwis I may or may not have offended, and to all the Brits I may or may not have promised my return to; I’m sorry. It’s all still up in the air.
After my traumatic Tongariro crossing adventure, all I wanted to do was find a spa and never leave. But New Zealand isn’t about that, so we drove to Waitomo and went into caves in the pitch black with a rubber inner tube instead. Obviously.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company made big promises, and they didn’t disappoint. We arrived the day before Alex’s birthday and booked onto a tour for the following morning, managing to get a 10% discount in the process (It’s his birthday tomorrow!). We arrived early because the staff wanted to chat to us about our diabetes situation. Our guide, Cam, was great. He’d had clients who had been on pumps before so had a rough idea on how they worked and gave us lots of options. We decided to take our pumps off and take one blood kit and hypo treatment in a dry bag into the caves with us. I actually made sure I took my pump off this time. I didn’t want a repeat of the dolphin experience.
We got into wetsuits, me looking glamorous as always…… And jumped into a van to be taken to the start of the tour. Little did we know that this was just a test run. We were told to jump off a ledge, into the river, backwards, whilst sitting in an inner tube. I’ve bungeyed and skydived but was more nervous about this! It was actually totally fine, the worst bit was the freezing cold river. We walked down to the entrance of the cave after going through some health and safety stuff – I wanted to do a test before going into the cave and I felt a bit weird anyway. I thought it was just the adrenaline from jumping into the river but, lo and behold, I was hypo. Arghhhh! I treated and we headed into the cave. My anxiety went through the roof. What if I had another hypo in the cave? What if I had overtreated my hypo and spent the next two hours rising and then struggled to get my sugars down for the rest of the day? In a situation like that, I didn’t really have any choice but to just get on with it and deal with the outcome on the other side. So that’s what I did!
After my initial fear subsided (just like skiing, sustained risk taking, underground, in the dark, surrounded by water! What could go wrong?!) I actually had a really good time! Glow worms are pretty amazing (and gross) and the whole experience was unique. Alex was in his absolute element! The perfect birthday for him, and I’m pleased we did something so perfect for him on the day I reminded him he was closer to 30 than 20. After we’d gotten out of wetsuits I did a test and was pleasantly surprised to only be at 12mmols. I corrected and went in for hot showers, soup and bagels before we headed off towards Rotorua – land of steam and air that smells like rotten eggs. On the drive, we both tested/scanned regularly and frustratingly both had huge spikes in blood sugars! At one point we were both at 18! I don’t know why, perhaps the delayed effect of adrenaline, perhaps the soup was secretly laced with sugar. All the same it was annoying and made me feel pretty rubbish for the next few hours.
We arrived relatively early, found some yummy cake (it WAS Alex’s birthday and our sugars had come down by this point!) and then wandered into the centre of town looking for some food. We went to a place where the burgers are called ‘The dogs bollocks’, and Alex had a burger bigger than his face. We wandered around the town, booked a Maori living village tour for the following day and had a walk around the impressive night market. We headed out of town in search of a campsite to settle for the night in prep for another busy day.
By the time we finally reached our destination it was dark. When it gets dark in New Zealand it is DARK. The camp site seemed quite full, but there were lots of pitches on the grass around the car park. Alex got out of the van to have a look and we decided to drive over to the far side and set up. We turned onto the field and both felt a shift in the van. The wheels spun and we stopped. We were stuck in the mud. Well and truly. Our wheels were about 6 inches deep. Spinning and going nowhere. Luckily, everyone on the camp site mucked in (quite literally) and after two hours, an Australian couple, three Germans, a dodgy looking rope and a four wheel drive, we were on solid ground!
Whilst all of this was happening, I obviously had a hypo.. Pushing a massive campervan can do that to a girl. But in the midst of all that madness, I reflected. I think I’m finally learning to chill out and let things happen! I actually laughed at the situation we were in. It was pretty rubbish, but as a group of strangers from all over the world, we laughed and our determination to get us out of the mud won!
I mentioned earlier that the nights here are super dark. Whilst trying to push the campervan out of the mud, I looked up and saw a shooting star! The first I’ve ever seen. The stars have taken my breath away here. It’s true that the more you look the more you see and it is mindblowing! We shared our beers with the people who had helped us out and laughed about what a memorable birthday it had become for Alex. Travelling has pushed me well and truly out of my comfort zone and as well as learning to take things in my stride more, I think I’m being less afraid of what other people think of me. In the past, the thought of what others might be thinking has stopped me from doing things I might’ve otherwise done. We got stuck in the mud because we probably shouldn’t have driven straight onto the grass.. before I would’ve been mortified asking for help, but instead we laughed and made friends. It’s okay to be an idiot sometimes. We’re human. Every day is a school day.
The next day we went to Waiotapu. It’s a natural park that is covered in an array of scenic canvasses painted by volcanic activity. It’s beautiful and interesting but it STINKS. I struggled and spotted some tourists with scarfs or masks on and was genuinely jealous. We watched the Lady Knox geyser erupt – artificially set off with some kind of soap powder.. Impressive, but definitely set up as a tourist attraction, so felt a little bit jaded.
The afternoon was spent at Whakarewarewa (trying saying THAT fast). The village is a ‘living’ Maori village. Where Maori families still live as a community. We went to a cultural performance which made me choke up (people singing in harmony with no kind of music always makes me want to cry), and when they sang a love song about ancestors I found myself singing along (turns out I’ve been singing Pokarekare Ana since I was about 13). We then did a walk around tour with a member of the community and it was really fascinating. Possibly one of my highlights of the trip. Did you know, that in that area they bury their dead ABOVE ground, because the temperature is too hot for someone to be buried below ground because of all the volcanic activity!
After leaving the smell of rotten eggs behind, we started heading up to the big city – Auckland. We stopped over in Matamata, or Hobbiton just to break the journey up. Although my sensor wasn’t reading accurately, it was still useful for me to get a general idea of what my blood sugars were doing. I was relying on my capillary blood glucose when dosing insulin but all the same, I’d paid for this sensor so I was keeping it on! We found a camp site and started to make dinner. I grabbed my scanner and tried to turn it on. Nothing. I plugged it into power. Nothing. It was completely dead. My second scanner in two months had died on me. I know I’ve raved about how amazing the Libre Sensors are in my previous blogs, and when they work, they really are amazing. But my experiences with them have not been positive at all. A failure rate of 80% for the sensors themselves and two faulty scanners is either extremely bad luck on my part or poor technology on theirs. I spent 30mins on the phone to Freestyle, explaining to them that I now had a load of sensors that were completely useless to me without a scanner, and that I now needed to carry them around with me for the next three months. I was furious. The offered me a replacement scanner and sensor, but refused to send my replacement to anywhere outside of the UK. Helpful. I insisted on a refund for my sensor (successful) and tried to convince them to send the scanner to the USA (unsuccessful). Luckily my friend Chris has come to the rescue and posted it out to me, so fingers crossed it’ll be waiting for me when I get to LA.
We left the next morning and arrived in Auckland in the early afternoon. The city is worlds apart from the tiny little towns we’ve experienced in the last month. We spent the first day wandering around the city. Stopping for coffee and blood sugar checks. We both managed to avoid hypos, just about. Although I was still pretty moody about the fact that I had no sensor and no scanner and Alex was happily scanning away.
The following day we headed out of the city centre towards the smaller residential areas. Some of my mums family emigrated to New Zealand when she was just a girl, so before coming out here mum really wanted me to meet up with the family she never really knew. I was apprehensive. I’m a little bit (a lot) socially awkward. I was worried about meeting strangers and it being weird and uncomfortable and as we drove up to the address I’d been given my stomach was doing flips. We were greeted by my mums cousin, Anne, who instantly reminded me of my auntie in Scotland and spoke with an accent half Scottish, half kiwi. Turns out that the last part of our trip was the unexpected, but undoubted highlight for me.
Family is a funny thing. The bond is unlike any other. I felt unexpected waves of emotion when going through photos of my Nana and Papa when they had been young. Having photos that matched with stories my mum had told me growing up. Exchanging memories and stories of the people we’ve loved and lost. The old photos of my Nana shocked me. My mum is the absolute copy of her and I couldn’t believe it! Plus, Anne’s family were the most genuine, warm and welcoming people I could have wished to meet. I loved every minute spent with them and wished we could’ve had more time. Anne also told me off for saying that New Zealand chocolate was terrible. I assured her that I’ve learnt my lesson, as confirmed above.
One evening after dinner, Anne asked us about our diabetes. We talked about how Alex and I met, how we were diagnosed, how we managed work and various other things. I always surprise myself when I get talking about diabetes. I feel really passionately about living a life where diabetes fits in and not allowing it to dominate my life. But sometimes it hits me just how different other people’s lives are to ours. Diabetes management is routine for us now. I genuinely don’t remember a time when I didn’t have to think about carbohydrate content or going hypo, but when chatting to people about how we go about our daily routine I realise that actually it’s quite demanding! We should give ourselves more credit for dealing with this 24hrs a day, 365 days a year, forever.
We spent one of our days in Auckland visiting an island called Waiheke. I fell in love instantly. About 9000 people live on the island, there are vineyards every direction you look and the wine is AMAZING (I may have sent 8 bottles home, don’t judge me). Throughout the course of the day I had planned my life on the island. How I would spend my days drinking wine, eating oysters, feeling chilled. Then I realised I’m a nurse and that’s not how this story goes. Anyway, a visit to Waiheke is absolutely recommended if anyone is visiting Auckland any time soon.
Our time in New Zealand has come to an end and it’s been one hell of an experience! We’ve crammed so much in that it’s difficult to believe. The sights we’ve seen have been breathtaking, the people have been amazing and I found some chocolate worth writing about. Meeting family remains a highlight and is something I’m really glad we did. Would we move here? It’s a possibility. The lifestyle is good. The government seems to appreciate nurses a hundred times more than ours do. People seem happy. But maybe I have tourist rose tinted glasses on. Who knows?
See you again New Zealand? Definitely. See you as a potential resident? Possibly.