Finding surfers’ paradise

Spontaneous trips are often the best, aren’t they? Going somewhere without expectations makes it hard to be disappointed and easier to fall in love with a place.

Last Friday, Ahmed and I decided to rent a car and head to Raglan, a small beach town 45 kilometers away from Hamilton, where we’re living. We had been told it is a charming town with beaches considered among the country’s best, and so we wanted to visit it before Ahmed would start uni this week.

Raglan's Ngarunui Beach is among the country's best for surfing.
Raglan’s Ngarunui Beach. Adjacent to this beach is Manu Bay, among the country’s best for surfing.

The number one reason for tourists and locals to visit Raglan is its surf breaks. They include Indicators, Whale Bay, and Manu Bay – the latter was featured in the 1966 movie The Endless Summer and in the 2010 movie Last Paradise.

That being said, even if you don’t surf there are plenty of excuses to visit this artsy town and its lovely surroundings. Here are some ideas and must-do’s if you’re planning to visit Raglan.

The road from Hamilton to Raglan (and back) is worth a few photo stops.
The road from Hamilton to Raglan (and back) is worth a few photo stops.

1. Enjoy the road from Hamilton to Raglan

Ahmed and I drove to Raglan without any stops, but on the way back we figured we’d have enough time for a D-tour and a few photo stops. It was definitely worth the extra time we spent on the road, as the farms, mountains and reserves make for a scenic route.

Enjoy a good cuppa Joe
Enjoy a good cuppa Joe

2. Have a locally roasted coffee

Kiwis love coffee, and Raglan roast is famous throughout the country. A visitor poll on the Raglan website in 2010 saw Raglan Roast winning with 77 votes out of 170, but we opted for The Shack (which ended third place) and truly enjoyed our cappuccinos (mine with almond milk; I loved it!) and the very friendly staff. We even thought we might come back for lunch or dinner at this place next time we visit Raglan, because the food smelt delicious!

Te Kopua Reserve
Te Kopua Reserve – a popular spot for swimming, picnics and BBQs

3. Enjoy a picnic at Te Kopua Reserve

We prepared lunch at home before driving to Raglan and enjoyed a picnic at Te Kopua Reserve. Apparently, the reserve, connected to the town centre by a footbridge, is a popular spot for picnics and barbecues, and it isn’t difficult to figure why. It is an excellent spot for (safe) swimming, features a large play area for kids, and offers benches and tables in addition to public toilets and changing rooms. The peninsula is also home to a big holiday park.

Te Kopua Reserve is one of the main swimming spots.
Te Kopua Reserve is one of the main swimming spots.
For dare devils only!
Jumping off the footbridge: for daredevils only!

4. Go for a swim

While the waters of Manu Bay may be a bit too rough for swimming, Te Kopua Reserve, Ocean Beach and Ngarunui Beach are excellent places to swim. During the summer months, lifeguards patrol these beaches for extra safety.

Surfing equipment for rent at Ngarunui Beach
Surfing lessons and equipment for rent at Ngarunui Beach
Ngarunui Beach
Ngarunui Beach

5. Watch the surfers at Ngarunui Beach or one of the bays

Even if you (like me) are not into surfing, it is fun to watch beginners (at Ngarunui Beach) or profs (at Manu Bay or Whale Bay) while enjoying the sun and the beach. Every year, Manu Bay holds international surfing competitions, which may be fun to attend as well.

See the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls
See the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls

6. See the Bridal Veil falls

About 20 kilometers south from Raglan are the Bridal Veil or Waireinga Falls, a 55-meter high plunge waterfall and popular tourist attraction. From the car park, it is an easy 10-minute walk to the top of the waterfall and another 10 minutes or so to take the stairs down and contemplate the fall as in the picture above.

The mountains surrounding Raglan
The mountains surrounding Raglan

7. Go for a hike

Apart from the waterfall, there are numerous short and long walking tracks in and around Raglan. On my wish list is the hike to Raglan’s Sleeping Lady, or Mount Karioi. There are two tracks, the more challenging Te Toto Track and the easier Wairake Track, but diehards walk up from one and go down on the other track, arranging transport to meet them on the other side. The summit is said to offer spectacular views of the region. Shorter and less challenging hikes include the Bryant Memorial Walk or Three Bridges Walk.

View of Ngaranui Beach
View of Ngaranui Beach

8. Look for arts and crafts

Raglan is bursting of creative and artsy people! While walking around in the centre, you will see numerous art shops and galleries. If you are into arts and crafts, make sure to check out Raglan’s Creative Market, held every second Sunday of the month. Other places to visit are the Matapihi Art Gallery and Raglan & District Museum.

Day trip to Raglan with on the background Manu Bay
Day trip to Raglan

Raglan is THE place to enjoy (watching) a surf and the laid-back Kiwi lifestyle. We loved it and will most likely come back for more!

One of Raglan's numerous beaches
One of Raglan’s numerous beaches

Running while pregnant – 30 weeks

As I wrote in my running post about weeks 28 and 29, I ordered a maternity support belt in the hope this would ease the pelvic girdle pain I had been experiencing lately and take some pressure of my bladder. I had read on blogs from other pregnant runners that wearing a maternity belt while running could be quite useful during the latter stages of pregnancy, but was hesitating to buy one as I could only find them online and was afraid to waste my money (given the absence of proper return policies in New Zealand). At last, I decided to go for the Jolly Jumper Maternity Support Belt because of its price and reviews I had read about it, and on the day I received it – at 30 weeks and 1 day pregnant – I tried my first run with it.

The Jolly Jumper Maternity Support Belt (what's in a name?!)
The Jolly Jumper Maternity Support Belt (what’s in a name?!)

While I was not sure whether the belt would scuff when worn directly on the skin, I thought it was too hot to wear two shirts (and I wasn’t confident enough to just put it over my running shirt) so I decided it would be a good test. Before I started running the belt already felt pretty comfortable and supportive, albeit also quite massive and sturdy.

Long story short, the belt did not bother me at all and stayed neatly in place while running. I felt less wobbly and more confident, and so following a 1-kilometer warm up I decided to go for a tempo run of 9 km with a pace of 5 min/km. (Total run including warm up and cool down was 11 km.)

On the downside, the belt did not noticeably take any pressure of my bladder; I had to squeeze in a potty break after 9 kilometers or so. It also did not prevent my hip/left buttock from getting sore towards the end of the run, and my pelvis kept bothering me post-run and even the day after.

My belly at 30 weeks pregnant (+ my husband trying to take a sneak picture of me as well in the background!)
My belly at 30 weeks pregnant (+ Ahmed trying to sneak a picture of me as well in the background!)

The pelvic pain notwithstanding, I couldn’t resist to go for another run two days later, promising myself to take it easy this time and go for just a short run.

This turned out to be an 8-km run at a leisurely pace along the river. Again I was wearing the belt, but I felt the pain from the beginning of the run, and while it didn’t get worse as the kilometers passed, it didn’t get better either. And the hours after I felt quite stiff.

Relaxed run 8-km run along the river
Relaxed run 8-km run along the river

On Valentine’s Day, Ahmed and I went for a run together around the lake. Although I took it really very easy my hip hurt me from the start. I walked a bit, thinking it might go away, but it didn’t. We ran 8 kilometers. In my training log I wrote: “Perhaps it is really time for a break and bike instead. After a few weeks I can see how it goes.”

Did that mean I finally saw the light and could convince myself to stop running, at least for the weeks to come, and see if there would be any improvement? Read it in my “Runnning while pregnant” post next week!

Going out for a Valentine's Dinner - our last one as a family of 2. :)
Going out for a Valentine’s Dinner – our last one as a family of 2. :)

Week 30

Tuesday: 11.03 km (tempo run)

Thursday: 8.08 km (slow run)

Saturday: 8.11 km (slow run)

Total: 27.29 km

Hamilton Farmers’ Markets & ICC Cricket World Cup

Last Sunday and today Ahmed and I have been exploring some farmers’ markets in town. A week ago we took the bus to the weekly Hamilton Farmers’ Market, located at the local racecourse.

Fresh produce at the Hamilton Farmers' Market
Fresh produce at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market

We enjoyed walking along the stalls and sitting in the sun, where two musicians played a variety of nice, laid-back songs.

The weather was perfect to enjoy the beautiful tunes of these two musicians.
The weather was perfect to enjoy the beautiful tunes of these two musicians.

Particularly busy was one coffee stall, and we would have tried their coffee if we had had enough time. The thing was, we had to catch a bus or wait one hour for the next one back to town. Life without a car can be challenging sometimes!

(We now have one bike though, which would make it easier to get there. I decided, nevertheless, to not buy a bike yet, as I think we wouldn’t be able to go out together anyways once we have the baby. Ahmed doesn’t agree with me and thinks I should get myself one as well, if only for the coming two months and once the baby is older.)

Busy coffee stall at the farmers' market
The Manuka Brothers’ Coffee stall was one of the busiest at the farmers’ market.
Their coffee must be something else!
Seeing the crowd, their coffee’s gotta be something else!

Overall, we thought the prices at this market were quite steep though, even when taken into account that most (all?) of the produce is pesticide-free. We therefore decided to try another market today, which also happens to be less than a kilometer away from home!

We were happily surprised at the Hamilton East River Market, which despite its smaller size offers everything we may need at a much more competitive price than the other market or even the not so pack’n save-y supermarket.

Hamilton East River Market
Hamilton East River Market

We thought this would be a great place to come back to weekly for our fruit and vegetable shopping. It is nice to support local farmers, eat (mostly) seasonal produce and save some moolah. ;)

In other news, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 started yesterday. Not only is cricket big in New Zealand, the country also hosts this year’s world cup together with Australia. Today’s game, South Africa vs. Zimbabwe, even took place right here in Hamilton!

The third match of the tournament, South Africa vs. Zimbabwe, took place at Hamilton's Seddon Park.
The third match of the tournament, South Africa vs. Zimbabwe, took place at Hamilton’s Seddon Park.

I have never been very interested in this sport but was amazed to find out that it is the second most popular sport in the world! It is extremely popular in India, Pakistan, Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. (Source: sporteology.com)

On the occasion, the Hamilton City Council had organised all kinds of activities on the city’s main square – including a South African gospel choir and bouncy castles for kids.

Hamilton Garden Square
Hamilton Garden Square
These balloon ladies guided cricket fans from the Garden Square to Seddon Park, where the match took place.
These balloon ladies guided cricket fans from the Garden Square to Seddon Park, where the match took place.

Something that draw our attention is that cricket is a very family-friendly sport. Walking around the stadium, we saw predominantly families with large baskets filled with foods and drinks entering. They were clearly going to enjoy a picnic and the sunny weather while watching the match in an amiable atmosphere.

ICC Cricket World Cup match in Hamilton
ICC Cricket World Cup match in Hamilton

Once again, we feel like we made the right decision to come here. We love how well-arranged this country is, and let’s not forget about people’s easy-going mentality! Day after day, we are getting around more easily and discovering new activities.

That’s it for now. I’ll soon write something about my week 30 pregnancy workouts (which got rather interesting!).

Question for people living in Hamilton: What activities are a must-do here? And what places should we visit?

Running while pregnant – Weeks 28 & 29

As my pregnancy is progressing into the last trimester my runs are getting more interesting – or should I say more challenging? In any case, I thought it could be useful for other pregnant runners and anyone else interested to write fortnightly updates rather than waiting for the third trimester to finish and write a long post.

In my last post about running during pregnancy, I wrote that towards the end of the second trimester I started experiencing some hip pain and lack of motivation. I said to myself that it was maybe time to start cutting back on mileage. My runs in the previous few weeks had been around 10 to 12 kilometers on average and three trainings a week. I thought it might be better to do shorter runs (around 6 km) four times a week.

Going to my first antenatal yoga class at 28 weeks pregnant.
Going to my first antenatal yoga class at 28 weeks pregnant.

My concerns were confirmed by my yoga instructor, who advised me to cut back on running in the third trimester, saying that running is quite tough on the pelvic floor muscles towards the end of pregnancy. She added that I could do other forms of cardio, such as spinning or rowing, to maintain my fitness.

The thing is, I enjoy running so much it is not easy to give up, and I have no access to spinning or rowing classes at the moment. After some research on Internet, I decided to keep running and just listen to my body.

28 weeks pregnant
28 weeks pregnant

At the same time, Ahmed decided to take up running again and asked me to help him. I figured it might be the perfect way to slow down a bit and continue running. So in the last 1.5 weeks, we have been doing some interval trainings together. Usually, I continue running on my own after Ahmed has finished to up my mileage and pace a bit. So far, I have not been able to convince myself to do shorter runs!

4-km interval training with Ahmed, followed by a run along the river.
4-km interval training with Ahmed around the lake, followed by a solo run along the river.

Other times I went out for a run alone, such as this training at 29 weeks pregnant:

13.24-km run along the river at 29 weeks pregnant.
13.24-km run along the river at 29 weeks pregnant.

In summary, my runs during these weeks looked like this:

Week 28

Tuesday: 10.12 km

Friday: 10.45 km

Saturday: 12.07 km

Total: 32.6 km

Week 29

Monday: 11.93 km

Wednesday: 13.24 km

Friday: 11.43 km

Sunday: 10.34 km

Total: 46.9 km

29 Weeks pregnant
29 Weeks pregnant

I also ordered a maternity support belt to take some pressure of my hips and bladder while running. In the post about weeks 30 & 31 I will tell more about it!

10 random thoughts and findings about New Zealand

Ahmed and I have only been in Hamilton for three weeks, but it feels like we’re already quite familiar with the country and culture. True, we’ve been here before, on a three-week holiday during which we covered a big part of the North and South islands and talked to several Kiwis who hosted us at their places. We also realise there remains much to be explored and discovered. Nevertheless, we feel that settling in here has been a fairly smooth experience. In less than a month, Hamilton has become our home, and we know that if we ever have to leave it will be with pain in our hearts. Here are 10 (pretty random) thoughts and findings about the country and its people.

1. Kiwis are among the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world

During our road trip in 2012, we stayed several times at people's homes and enjoyed the Kiwi hospitality.
During our road trip in 2012, we stayed several times at people’s homes and enjoyed the Kiwi hospitality.

Back in 2012, when Ahmed and I were touring the country, we often got the question, “Why don’t you move to New Zealand?” from locals. Being from Europe (and even in the Middle East), where (most) immigrants are seen as a burden and people often wish for “fewer of them,” this was a very refreshing change. Yeah, why didn’t we? Honestly, we had already been thinking about moving here, but were hesitating mainly because of the distance and the question whether there would be opportunities for us to work here. Now that we made the move, we found again that Kiwis are extremely friendly and hospitable.

2. Food (and most other things as well) is expensive

Pak'n Save or Pak'n Spend? Groceries are expensive!
Pak’n Save or Pak’n Spend? Groceries are expensive!

No country is perfect, right? After living for nearly five years in Saudi Arabia, where food (and other things as well) is C-H-E-A-P and wages are high, going for our weekly groceries here gives us quite a shock. It makes sense, since New Zealand is far away from the rest of the world, and it does not have the “economy of scale” that keeps prices reasonable elsewhere. But paying over US$2 for a factory-produced loaf of bread or US$1.50 for a capsicum keeps hurting our wallets a little.

3. Ease of getting (most) things done

The headache of getting things done correctly in some countries...
The headache of getting things done correctly in some countries…

We were able to settle down in Hamilton in just 10 days, mainly due to the ease of getting things done here. And this, in its turn, is partly thanks to the helpfulness of Kiwis. We found they are mostly sincere and patient when we have enquiries about products or services. It was easy to find an apartment within three days, open various bank accounts, get a working sim card (this may sound obvious, but when I recall the headache I went through in Turkey to get my sim card working I know this is not always a given), find a midwife, purchase household stuff, and more that I wrote about in this post. The exception was getting broadband Internet, and eventually we went with a company whose Internet is not as fast as we would have liked to.

4. People are not so ambitious

Why would you be ambitious if enjoying this scenery is for free?
Why would you be ambitious if enjoying this scenery is for free?

When it comes to working to live or living to work, Kiwis undoubtedly opt for the former. In this country, part time jobs are fairly common, and people seem to be quite content to have an average career. I am sure there are exceptions and Auckland and Wellington could be more of a ratrace kinda lifestyle, but this is at least the impression I get in laid-back Hamilton. If you only look at the infrastructure and the lack of highways, you realise that here, life is not all about money.

5. Change of mind is a no-go

Not happy with your purchase? Too bad, you cannot change your mind!
Not happy with your purchase? Too bad, you cannot change your mind!

With all the praise about New Zealand and its high standard of living, we were surprised to find out that consumer rights in this country lag compared to Europe and the US. Returning an item is not common, and shops usually reject taking a product back in case the customer changed his mind, even if the package has not been opened! It is often accepted though to change an item and get a giftcard.

6. The range of outdoor activities is mind-blowing

Tramping during our 2012 holiday
Tramping during our 2012 holiday

New Zealand is truly one of the greatest countries if you like outdoor sports and activities. During our 2012 holiday, Ahmed and I did some hiking and camping – or tramping, as they call it here – in Tongariro and Abel Tasman national parks, but there is so much more: skiing, rafting, biking, (trail) running, surfing, canoeing, fishing – the possibilities are endless! And these activities are not just for tourists; locals engage in them as well.

7. NZ is a car-oriented society

In 2012 we rented a car, but this time we are planning to live without a car - at least for a while.
In 2012 we rented a car, but this time we are planning to live without a car – at least for a while.

That being said, we were surprised to find out how car-oriented the society is. We moved here thinking we would live without a car (at least for a while) and although we are still convinced we can do it, we are amazed by the reactions we get when we tell people this. Once we visited a furniture store just outside town. When we asked for the delivery rates, the saleswoman was staggered to find out we had come to the store by bus! Public transport is not great and will keep us from going out after 9 p.m. and on Sunday evening. On the other hand, living right in the center makes it easy to get pretty much anywhere by foot.

8. NZ cinema and literature are quite gloomy

Cinema in Wellington (left) and two books by Kiwi writers I lent from the library
Cinema in Wellington (left) and two books by Kiwi writers I lent from the library

Having seen one Kiwi movie and read half Kiwi book I am probably not the one to write about this yet, but I have the feeling the arts (or at least the cinema and literature) in New Zealand are quite dark. Maybe, after all, not everything in this country is as rosy as we picture it. Or, possibly, I just chose a very gloomy movie (“Once Were Warriors”) and haunting book (“Blindsight” by Maurice Gee). I will have to watch and read more for a final verdict.

9. Integration of indigenous people with white Kiwis does not go without problems… or does it?

Visiting a Maori village near Rotorua
Visiting Whakarewarewa, a Maori village near Rotorua

Partly inspired by the previous finding and especially the movie “Once Were Warriors,” we have the impression that just like in Australia, Canada, US and other countries with an indigenous population, Maoris and white Kiwis do not always coexist without problems. Discrimination, criminality and other issues seem to be an issue here as well. We also often notice groups of white Kiwis or Maoris walking together, but hardly ever see mixed groups. That being said, a Kiwi friend did not share this observation, telling us the two do mix, and that interracial marriages are quite common.

10. Kiwis are “almost Spanish”

Mastering the laid-back Kiwi life!
Mastering the laid-back Kiwi lifestyle!

Closely related to number 4, Kiwis are laid-back and work is certainly not at the top of their agenda. People here know how to live a good life and enjoy a relaxed pace of living. As my midwife, who seems to savour her time off and enjoys a good surf, worded it: “We are almost Spanish.” Since I already fell head over heels with Spain a long time ago, this makes me love New Zealand even more.

 

For those who have been to New Zealand, any observations to add to this list?

Next week I’ll be back with a running post!

Running while pregnant – second trimester

Some 1.5 month ago, I wrote my first post about running during pregnancy. If you haven’t read it you can find it here. As I am nearly 29 weeks now, I thought it was time to write about my second trimester running experience in this post.

Contrary to the first trimester, my second trimester started off great with a nice 11.1 km run with my sister in Houten, a town near my hometown in the Netherlands. Okay, my time was nowhere near what I had run before, but I felt much better and more energetic than during the first trimester. My energy levels had gone up since week 11/12, while the nausea had almost completely disappeared.

Baby's first medal! 11.1 km race in Houten, the Netherlands at 13 weeks pregnant
Baby’s first medal! 11.1 km race in Houten, the Netherlands at 13 weeks pregnant

Back in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at 14 weeks, I noticed a small regression: I was more tired and running was harder than it had been in the Netherlands. I blame the weather; while I always tolerated running in the heat very well, since the beginning of my pregnancy this changed. I guess this is nature’s way to tell me to slow down when it’s hot so as to protect the foetus.

As the second trimester progressed, I felt better and better (along with the weather that finally got cooler and less humid), with the exception of a heavy cold and sinus infection that hit me around week 17 and 18. This prevented me from running for a couple of weeks.

Hotel gym in Dubai. Hydration is always important, but especially so when you are pregnant!
Hotel gym in Dubai. Hydration is always important, but especially so when you are pregnant!

During week 15, I even did a long run with the Dubai Creek Striders when I was there for the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience. A friend in Jeddah had told me that this running club was going to run 20 km on Friday early morning, and I thought it would be a nice way to spend my free morning. When I got there at 6 a.m., I discovered they were planning to do 25 km! I hesitated, but thought I would give it a try. After all, I could always stop if it got too tiring. We ended up running 28.4 km, my longest distance in many months! But it felt good and I didn’t experience any pain while running.

Long Friday morning run with the Dubai Creek Striders at 15 weeks pregnant
Long Friday morning run with the Dubai Creek Striders at 15 weeks pregnant

The weeks after, I could continue running at the same pace I had done during the first trimester and often even a bit faster, despite my increasing belly size! I felt energetic and healthy and kept logging four runs a week.

Around 20 weeks, the pressure on my bladder increased, and that made running less comfortable. Running on the treadmill (with toilet facilities within reach) was easiest. Apart from the fear of wetting my pants (which luckily never happened) I kept feeling strong, although it varied a lot from day to day.

Going out for a run at 22 weeks pregnant
Going out for a run at 22 weeks pregnant (yes, this is my childhood room, which still has some soft toys that I can’t get myself giving away!)

I spent Christmas and New Year’s (week 22-24) with my family in the Netherlands again, and enjoyed the ability to run outside in cool weather to the max! I even did a couple of 21-km runs at a very comfortable pace. The only difficulty – again – were the toilet visits I had to make every 30 minutes or so. In winter there aren’t many places to hide, I discovered, as all trees and bushes have lost their leaves… A highlight was the yearly Schoonhoven Oliebollenloop, a run me and some relatives traditionally join on the last day of the year. Last year I finished first lady at the 15 km run; this time I opted for the 10 km. I was hoping to finish under 50 minutes, but did not want to pressurise myself.

Oliebollenloop in Schoonhoven at 24 weeks pregnant. Photo from www.runnersfoto.nl
Oliebollenloop in Schoonhoven at 24 weeks pregnant. Photo from http://www.runnersfoto.nl

To my surprise, it went incredibly well and soon realised I was running at a 4:22 min/km pace! I could not only manage to keep this pace, but even accelerated a bit towards the end, finishing in 43:29 minutes. When I checked the results later online, I saw I had finished first lady and (unfortunately) just one second slower than the lady that finished behind me (who had started a bit later than I had. Hence, she had technically won the race, but I was first in the ranking). Who would have thought, at 24 weeks pregnant? I hadn’t even really pushed myself!

The new year and weeks 25-27 of the second trimester started with a bit less running in them. While I kept feeling good physically (and mentally!), we were so busy packing our stuff and later settling down in Hamilton, New Zealand, that there was not much time nor energy left for runs. That being said, I did do a few very beautiful runs here. Hamilton has some amazing options to run along the river and lake, and all of these paths are car-free. However, the hot weather here has forced me to slow down again, and I’ve been experiencing some hip pain lately. Perhaps the relaxin is finally affecting my joints, making them more prone to injury.

Running along the Waikato river in Hamilton is something different!
Running along the Waikato river in Hamilton is something different!

All in all, I am very happy with how the second trimester went. I felt strong and energetic, and despite slowing down my workouts I could finish a 10 km race at a pre-pregnancy pace! This gave me good hopes for the future. However, towards the end of this trimester, I noticed I was less motivated to work up a sweat. In part, this could be due to the whole settling in issue, but I also think my body is telling me to slow down a tad as the baby is growing and my due date is approaching.

I will soon write about the third trimester!

How to settle in New Zealand in 10 days

Can you believe it’s been only 10 days since Ahmed and I set foot in New Zealand? We, for sure, cannot; it seems months rather than merely a couple of weeks that we were sitting in our house surrounded by stuff, trying to decide what to take and what to leave.

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Waikato River is surrounded by green strips that make for a perfect stroll, run, or bike ride.

We arrived Friday evening in Hamilton, where we are planning to live for the years to come. There was not much we could do during the weekend, but, to be honest, that gave us a much needed rest to recover from the arduous journey and jet lag. We did, however, explore the town, find the best mobile company and buy a sim card, and visited a Kiwi family, who gave us heaps of very useful tips.

All in all, we have settled quite well in just 10 days. Who would have thought! Here are the most important things we achieved during this time.

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Our apartment – furniture to be replaced soon!

1. Finding an apartment
We had no idea where we were going to live in Hamilton and booked a one-bedroom motel for the first four nights. After meeting a real estate agent on Monday, we figured we needed more time to find something suitable. We also realised that housing was more expensive than we were hoping. For three days, we visited eight properties with different real estate agents. We also got in touch with a lady who had two apartments for rent in the middle of the centre. Although we were convinced we did not want to live in a small apartment right in the city centre – given that we will soon have a baby to look after – we decided to have a look. Perhaps it could be a solution for the first few weeks, we thought. The minute we walked into the first apartment we fell head over heels with it! It wasn’t big, but clean, light, with a nice kitchen and bathroom and a balcony overlooking the river. The second apartment was a bit bigger but had the balcony overlooking the shopping street. Once home, we realised the first really was too small for us, and the next day we signed the contract for the apartment!

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Kitchen of our apartment

We figured it was an advantage to be in the centre, as we are planning to live without a car for a while. The river is right next to the apartment, so it is still easy to be away from the hustle and bustle if we want to. We are also happy to deal with a landlord who doesn’t work for a large company. It is all more personal and friendlier. The apartment comes with a fridge, microwave, laundry and dryer, and so we don’t need to buy all those things.

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Apartment hallway

2. Opening a bank account
Our experience in New Zealand has been very positive so far. We have noticed it is very easy to get things done, not in the least part because people here are extremely friendly and helpful. It was easy to get sim cards (without even the need to show a passport or ID) and opening a bank account was just as simple. Ahmed had already opened a bank account overseas, and we had an appointment at the bank on Monday morning to verify that account and open two more accounts. All went very smooth, and with the ANZ mobile app we can arrange most of our banking. A joint account is linked to both our individual accounts, which we can use for family expenses without the need of an extra debit card.

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Visiting a birth centre to find out my options for giving birth

3. Finding a midwife and birth centre
One of the things I am excited about is giving birth here. I had done some research when we were still in Saudi Arabia and soon discovered that New Zealand uses a system similar to the one in England and the Netherlands. To be short, in Saudi Arabia the only way to give birth is in the hospital. Anesthesia is common practice. Every month we visited a gyn who gave hardly any information about pregnancy and giving birth. I did get a shipload of supplements – multivitamins, iron, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, and much more – each time I visited the hospital, but not once did he ask me about my diet, weigh me, tell me what symptoms I could expect and which ones I shouldn’t ignore, or at least where I could find trustworthy information.
So I was excited to go to a country where people give birth with a midwife and in a more personal environment, but I had no idea it would be this great! Coincidentally, Ahmed has a Kiwi friend whose family lives in Hamilton, and funny enough his sister-in-law is about to give birth to her first baby! She told me about two birth centres in town where many Kiwis give birth, and on Monday we visited both. The staff were very happy to show us around, answer our enquiries, and give us information regarding antenatal classes, antenatal yoga, midwifes, and costs. The two centres have water pools and medicine balls, among other facilities, plus they encourage natural birthing and skin to skin contact rather than taking the baby immediately away from the mother. While one of them had a more homey feel than the other, both had a very good atmosphere.
Through a list I got at one of the centres I easily found a midwife, and we already met her. Again, it was all very friendly, and it reassured me that this is the perfect place for me to have a baby.

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Hamilton Gardens is one of the city’s highlights.

4. Getting an insurance
As Ahmed is here for his studies, the university had asked him to choose an insurance and sign up for it while we were still in Saudi. Yesterday we visited the university campus and met with a lady from the university who deals with the student insurance. We found out the insurance does not only cover medical issues, but includes a content insurance for personal belongings and liability insurance for the apartment. Despite some shortcomings (the insurance does not cover giving birth, nor are dental costs included) we think it is a pretty good insurance for the price we pay. And even if content and liability were not included, it would have been a pretty easy procedure to get those. We had already enquired about them at our bank.

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Hamilton Gardens – a post about these beautiful gardens will appear soon!

5. Buying furniture
So we signed our rental contract on Wednesday and were able to move in on Sunday – if we had a bed, that is. Without IKEA in this country, this is a more difficult part of settling in than it is in most countries. We checked several furniture stores and found that the affordable ranges are pretty old fashioned. Lest we want to feel like we’re living in the fifties, this is not what we were looking for, but we also do not have a very high budget as long as we don’t get any income. Several Kiwis recommended us to find secondhand deals on TradeMe, New Zealand’s version of Ebay. However, without a car it is not easy to buy things on this website, and we did not even find furniture we really liked for a good price. We ended up buying a mattress online and also bought plenty of stuff – including a bedframe – from The Warehouse. We visited their largest branch in Hamilton but ended up ordering everything online and have it sent to our new address. Not cheap, but without a car this seemed the best option. As of now, we don’t have a couch or any other furniture yet, but our landlord was friendly enough to lend us a dining table and chairs as well as the sofa and chairs in the living room. This way we can take our time to find the best deals. Oh, and let’s not forget the stuff for the baby! We have found some good stores and are also considering buying some things on TradeMe. Luckily we still have a few months to finalise all that!

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Indian Garden

6. Picking up our boxes
Probably the stupidest thing we did is ship some boxes to New Zealand. Okay, perhaps sending them by cargo was not a bad idea, but we chose to send some totally useless stuff. Of course it is nice to have our books here, but would we really need to have them here already? And do we even have space in our apartment for them (let alone money to buy bookshelves)? Another thing we shipped are my running trophies. True, I am very proud of them, but there’s no way I can display them in our new apartment. Most probably they will stay in their boxes in our storage room. I should have left them with my or Ahmed’s family… Shipping my kitchen machine would have been more practical.
Not only was it expensive to ship them from Jeddah, we also had to rent a car, go to Auckland, get them cleared by Customs and pay for that as well. It probably cost us around US$400. Pretty expensive trophies, I would say…

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University of Waikato campus

7. Enrolling at university
As said, we visited the university campus on Friday morning. Apart from sorting out our insurance, Ahmed finalised the registration process and enrolled in papers (as they call university subjects or courses) for the first year. He is doing three papers in the first semester, which starts on March 2 and ends June 28. The second semester, which runs from July 13 to November 9, he will follow four papers, after which he needs to attend Summer school from November 9 to December 20. That leaves us plenty of time to visit my family for Christmas and Ahmed’s as well.

While these are probably the biggest steps we completed in 10 days, they are by no means the only things we had to do! A few other things we arranged was choosing a company for broadband Internet, getting electricity (not unimportant!), buying a bus card, and picking up our ATM cards.

And as said, we met Ahmed’s Kiwi friend and spent one evening with his family just outside Hamilton, where we saw again how friendly and hospitable people are here. After just 10 days, we already feel home in this country, and we are excited about the months and hopefully years we have ahead of us here!

Correction: It turned out none of the boxes contained my running trophies. Instead, there were souvenirs, books, shoes, picture frames and more. What a relief!

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