Tonga to Australia by way of New Zealand (again)

The guys from Quikpoint (where Seven works) asked a while back where Seven was and the answer is, yes, he’s been behind the camera. He’s made a great record of our trip so far, though occasionally something happens to the camera that no one seems to understand (could it have something to do with the children’s light experiments?). This has, however, meant that he hasn’t been in front of the camera as much as perhaps one would have liked. So I thought I’d post a picture of him looking stylish in his new hat:

IMG_4070-1

I have to say it’s been great traveling with him in this part of the world. Everywhere we go it’s, “Hey, brother” and “Where you from?”  And it’s been really interesting to me to have the experience of looking around (most notably, I think, in the Tongan airport) and seeing him surrounded by a sea of people who look just like him — something that does not happen all that often to anyone, really, if you think about it.

A lot of people even in Tonga thought Seven was Tongan and I could see why. I had, incidentally, expected to see a lot of really huge Tongans — they’re so famous for producing big athletes — but the people didn’t seem any bigger there than anywhere else in Polynesia. In fact, Seven still loomed over most of them. His theory: all the really big guys are over in the States and New Zealand playing football and rugby.

I had originally tried to plan our itinerary so that we could follow (more or less) the original Polynesian migration route from west to east, or, failing that, retrace it backwards from east to west. But it turns out that modern air travel routes make that impossible. You can’t fly from Tahiti to Tonga, for example, or from Tonga to Hawai’i. Or maybe you can, but not easily enough to work it into this trip. So we’ve done a certain amount of backtracking. (Dani figured out the other day how many different flights we’ve been on: 8 just getting us in and out and around French Polynesia!).

Tonga was another of these places that is served by a limited number of airlines operating out of a limited number of hubs, so when we left there we had to go back to New Zealand in order to go on to Australia.  This meant that we had a one-night layover in Auckland, where, incredibly, still more of Seven’s relatives managed to find us — we weren’t even in the country for 24 hours! This time it was some of his nephews who were all just kids last time we saw them — kids, I should add, that I was particularly fond of, so it was nice to see how they’d turned out. Here’s a farewell shot of us in Auckland.

Seven's nephews

From here it was on to Australia, where there were still more people to see. I lived in Australia for almost 15 years; Seven was there for about 11. I spent my formative years there as a graduate student; Seven and I were married there; Abraham grew up there until the age of 7 (and had an Australian accent when he arrived in the States); Matiu was born there…Suffice it to say, it was a big part of our life.

We haven’t been back since leaving in 1998 and I had given us, what, 5 days? I knew, heading into it, that it was impossible. But I hadn’t really understood how impossible it was, nor had I understood what the effect of all that visiting in New Zealand, or perhaps just all this travel, would be on the children, who were in a mutinous mood for much of the time.

Two things helped: babies and animals. Our first order of business was a visit to Auntie Mere’s house to see her and her two babies. Mere is the sister who came to live with us in Queensland and moved with us to Melbourne, where she still lives. This was all before Dani’s time and Matiu was too young to remember, though of course she remembers him. Mere has since had two sons, including this little dynamo, who is named after his uncle Tauwhitu, aka Seven:

Little Seven

It took the combined efforts of Big Seven, Matiu, and Dani to keep Little Seven occupied when they came to visit us in the flat we were renting in Melbourne, which was of course not child-proofed. Little Seven is only 2, but can he move! Like lightning, that boy! Reminded me of that escape artist Dani, who was once returned to us by a neighbor when he was just about this age. He had gone out of the house, up the driveway, and down the road before anyone even realized he was missing. My prediction for this child is that he’s going to be a wicked athlete: you should have seen him catch and kick a ball. Lucky, too, because they’re going to need ways to keep him busy. As a wise dog trainer I once knew used to say: “A tired dog is a good dog.” Speaking as the mother of three boys, I would have to say the same is true of energetic toddlers.

The other very successful thing we did in Australia with our boys was to visit the Healesville Sanctuary. It was a beautiful day, with a rapidly changing sky (sun, then clouds, then sun, but no rain) and a stunning landscape of hills and bush and little towns. They’ve had a lot of rain this winter in Melbourne and the countryside was vividly green, which it isn’t often. I had forgotten how gorgeous it all was, and, on the subject of dogs (and babies, ha ha), I had also forgotten how very beautiful this animal was.

dingo

We’d been seeing these mangy-looking dogs all over Polynesia (along with chickens and pigs), so it was a surprise to see how lovely a wild dog looked. This, is, of course, a dingo. In fact, I had forgotten how spectacular all of Australia’s creatures are. Here are a few shots from the Sanctuary. I think you will have no trouble identifying this first one:

kangaroo

One of Australia’s many scary snakes:

snake

One of my favorite birds — the galah — common but spectacular:

galah

A flying fox (aka fruit bat):

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A monitor, aka goanna. This thing is bigger than it looks in the picture, maybe four feet long, perhaps a bit more, from tip to tip:

monitor

A koala — unfailingly adorable:

koala

And the ubiquitous pelican, another great-looking bird:

pelicans

Ah, Australia. Such a cool place and we had time for such a tiny little taste of it….

Melbourne Revisited (but barely)

On the Road with Kids, the Extended Version

The name of this Tongan church gave us a shock: of course it is dedicated to Saint Matthew. I just don’t think we’d ever seen Matiu’s name in letters that big!

Church of Matiu

It occurred to me that I might write a little about what this has been like for Matiu and Dani (and what traveling with them has been like for us). Since I can’t get inside their heads (and since because they’re boys they never tell you how they’re feeling), I have to intuit their experience based on their behavior, which has been what I would describe as mixed.

Admittedly, we are asking quite a lot of them: get up, go here, go there, do this, eat this weird food, greet these unknown family members, visit this heap of rocks. On the whole, they’ve been great, though, naturally, not always. Over time they have developed a tactic that I find really maddening. They have become Refuseniks. When they have really had enough they simply refuse to leave the hotel room. They will sometimes do this even when they need food; in fact, the hungrier they are the more intransigent they become — low blood sugar having a well-known and deleterious effect on children’s cognitive abilities…

When it gets really bad — we leave them. Even if they’re hungry. But when we come back we bring food. Fortunately, this only happens once in a while. For the most part only one child at a time is lost in the serious sulks and it’s been quite heartening to watch each of them, at different moments, try to jolly his brother back to some reasonable frame of mind so that we can get on with whatever it is that we have to be doing.

So, in honor of their continuing efforts I want to post a few pictures that will suggest some of the other techniques they’ve used to cope with this journey…

Here, for example, is a photo of Matiu and Dani in an Auckland hotel:

Dani and Matiu in NZ

And here they are in a hotel in Tonga:

Dani at Little Italy

Matiu at Little Italy

Here they are thinking about how close they can get to the cliff edge:

Matiu and Dani

And here they are horsing around on the beach:

Matiiu and Dani with stick

And here they are horsing around some more in, wait for it, another hotel room:

Matiu and Dani in Melbourne
I have to say I have loved traveling with them—except once in a while, when, had it been possible, I might have sent them home. Fairly early on in the trip I told them the story about how one of my cousins was sent home from a trip at about this age, but it can only have had the weakest of effects on them since (a) they knew I couldn’t actually do it and (b) they knew I never would.

Tonga to Australia by way of

New Zealand (again)