New Zealand North Island Encounters Education / Family / Food / Friends / New Zealand / Photography

Centrally located near the top of the South Island, Nelson made an excellent home-base for our three-month visit in New Zealand, and we completely luxuriated in the time we spent there. Because the country is quite large and packed full of awesomeness around every corner, we did occasionally venture to other places as well. Our first trip began with a short stay in Auckland on the North Island, to renew Aysia’s passport.



We began our adventure at the home of some Sri Lankan friends, the Alawatte family, who very graciously hosted us overnight. Dhammika, the mother of the family, has been following our blog for quite a while. In fact, we even spent a lovely time with her brother Ajith’s family while we were in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago!

We sure have appreciated our connection to these sweet, supportive, generous, and welcoming friends over the years. We had many heartwarming conversations during our stay with them, and chatted until past midnight, while enjoying such lovely hospitality and delicious food.

Earlier in the day, we also went on a walk together around a lake, which they have a beautiful, close-up view of from their back patio, and we took some gorgeous photos with them while we were out.

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After the obligatory passport renewal the next day, our family drove to Cornwall Park which is home to many amazing old fig trees, which we spent a lot of time admiring. You just had to be there to get the full effect, but Brandon also included some video footage to help capture the experience in more depth.

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The park is adjacent to One Tree Hill, which is actually a volcanic peak. From the summit we could see an extensive view across the Auckland area, including views of both harbors.



That night we drove to the Retro Motel in Hamilton, New Zealand to meet up with our friends the Lybberts, who were also visiting New Zealand for their first time! We picked up some take-out food and ate at a park close-by, which included great playground equipment and a lake. Our kids had a lot of fun playing until past dark.

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It was so fun to be with these friends again! It had been two years since we last enjoyed time together, at their home in Oregon, so we were long overdue! We met them first in Chiang Mai and have also spent time together in Bali and Utah over the years.


The next day, we all went on a walk through the forest on the Ruakuri Trail, not far from the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which we toured next, where we rode in a boat to see the 30,000+ glowworms. It was really magical to see them all like glowing stars on the ceiling, with their silk threads hanging down in a coating of tiny water droplets. The resulting sight was really quite mesmerizing! It was difficult to get a good picture from the moving raft, but we had a great journey.

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Glowworms are actually a type of fly larvae which are beautifully bioluminescent. Learn more about these amazing little creatures here.

Emily and Ella, the eldest daughter of the Lybbert family, were even inspired to write a song about glow worms together, which you can hear in Brandon’s video at the end of the post. This is definitely worldschooling at its finest!


Kiwi birds, Caves, and Waterfalls

Onward to more adventures the next day, we went to the Kiwi House and watched the Kiwi feeding. The kiwis are flightless birds, who are mostly nocturnal. We were surprised by their size and speed, and their movements were quite fun to watch. Here’s more interesting information about these unique birds.

We saw the feeding of the Kea bird as well, which is the only species of alpine parrot; they’re very intelligent, with uniquely colorful feathers.


After a nice lunch at Luscious Cafe, we went on a beautiful nature walk to see the Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk, Marokopa Falls, and Piripiri Cave. I especially enjoyed the Natural Bridge Walk where I spotted an eel in the Mangapohue Stream, and the impressive 17 m high natural arch frames such a beautiful setting.

We said goodbye to the Lybberts the next morning, but we looked forward to seeing them again in about 2 1/2 weeks.

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Before heading back to Nelson for a couple weeks of rest, we went to visit with some new unschooling friends, the Rehkopf family, who live a bit north of Auckland. We enjoyed meeting their family during a relaxed, casual visit together, savoring a lot of delicious food, a dip in the pool, and a fun time playing in their backyard.


Foxton Unschooling Retreat

We love to meet other unschoolers, and it’s always fun to get a flavor for the local variety! What better way than to attend the Foxton Unschooling Retreat at the end of February.  Foxton is located almost two hours up the coast from Wellington, on the North Island. We took the ferry from Picton on the South Island and enjoyed a beautiful ride.

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Upon our arrival in Foxton, we drove to the house the Lybberts were renting. Yay, we meet again! They invited us over to enjoy a fun visit and some delicious pavlova.

We met a really nice crowd at the retreat the next morning, which was located at the Foxton Boy’s Brigade Camp. There were over 70 families there, so several hundred people!


Brandon and I joined the 5Rhythms activity shortly after we arrived, and I absolutely loved the dancing. I kept my eyes closed most of the time, just tuning into how my body wanted to move, which felt amazing. It was like a release and an opening which felt really energizing, empowering, and integrating all at the same time!


We met the very kindhearted Us In A Bus family at the retreat, and had such an enjoyable time getting to know them. They’ve been full-time traveling in their bus around New Zealand for the past 2 1/2 years! They gave us a tour of their home, which was really cool. Angela, the mom of the family is the driver, and it’s a really big bus! We were certainly impressed.

I attended a lovely and connecting women’s circle with Angela, and enjoyed walking around camp with another facilitator beforehand, as she invited all the women to join us. It was fun to see all their camp set-ups and to chat a bit with everyone along the way.


Emily played guitar for a few people at the retreat, and was even befriended by one of the older teens who also enjoys guitar and singing.


That evening we all had nachos for dinner in the main eating hall, while Angela’s husband, Hamish, chatted with Brandon and I about his experience growing up in the Presbyterian religion. He was very interested to hear about our experiences with Mormonism as well, and we had a really interesting conversation.


Later, we sat in on a discussion with a panel of young adult unschoolers to hear their answers to questions posed about their experiences and perspectives. It was so great to listen to what they had to say, such wise and articulate responses!

We drove to a cozy airbnb in Levin to spend the next two nights, and we absolutely loved it. The owners were so welcoming and generous, providing lots of treats and food in the cupboards and fridge. There was even a cute little stuffed animal bunny for Aysia to keep, which was tucked ever so sweetly into her bed upon our arrival.

The next morning we were feeling a bit under the weather, so we stayed in until 3pm when we went to meet the Lybberts at a big playground nearby.

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A couple of hours later, we all went back to the retreat together just in time to grab a plate of spaghetti, before it was all gone. After that we stayed for the talent show, in which Emily, Marie, Maya, and Ella all participated! Afterward, there was even a Celtic folk dance that many people joined in on.



We drove to Wellington the next day and enjoyed a nice walk around town along Cuba Street. On the way, we ate delicious Turkish food wraps with vegetables like carrots, onions, and cabbage, along with lamb and three sauces (we chose mint, garlic yogurt, and hummus).

We also had some amazing Gellicious Gelato from a place called Kaffee Eis. Brandon and I shared a double scoop, salted caramel and chocolate. It was definitely my favorite gelato ever! The salted caramel flavor was especially exquisite, and the texture was superbly smooth and creamy.

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We met the Lybberts at the Te Papa Museum the next day, which is free to enter, and we learned some interesting things. Did you know the center of the earth is 5,500 degrees Celsius, almost as hot as the sun? Quite memorable was seeing and learning about the colossal squid on display. We especially loved the Maori exhibits, including some very beautiful wood carvings.

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The highlight was probably the Dreamworks animation section, a paid exhibit, where we saw many clay characters and scale models of sets. At the end we were able to use Blank, the animation software developed by Dreamworks, to make our own animations!

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We left Wellington with our friends on the Interislander Ferry, and lucked out with the opportunity of sitting next to a couple of circus performers. They were practicing their hat-juggling act during the ride, which we enjoyed watching. Brandon even captured it on video for you all, so do check it out at the end of this post!

They also performed some regular juggling while teaching us a few of their tricks, and Brandon learned how to juggle four balls! They even helped the kids with their gymnastics skills, which they all loved.

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Also during the ferry ride, the Lybberts introduced us to Brain Dots, a game app where you have to get two dots to touch each other by drawing lines in strategic ways, but be warned, it’s very addicting!

Edwin Fox

Arriving back on the South Island in Picton, we went to see the ship Edwin Fox with the Lybberts the next day. It’s a ship built in India during the year 1853, which has had quite an interesting history, and was successfully dry docked and preserved in 1999.

We watched a documentary about the ship, and explored some of the associated stories and artifacts on display. There was even a collection of dress-up clothes available, which the kids enjoyed trying on.

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We would have also loved to see Coromandel during our time on the North Island, but maybe next time. That’s quite enough adventuring for now!

As you may recall, I’ve mentioned Brandon’s video three times already in this post, so consider that a big hint to make sure you don’t miss out, it’s an exceptional one!

Rest assured, we still have an abundance of remarkable excursions and experiences to share with you. Please stay tuned for — A Reunion of Friends in Nelson, New Zealand. Coming up next!

Jennifer loves to breathe, read, write, travel, learn, sing, dance, eat, and practice mindfulness. She is currently residing in Ubud, Bali, and loves exploring new places with her family.


  1. Irene Curtis Says: July 15, 2016 at 7:25 am

    THANKS for this beautiful interesting and fun post. I didn’t realize New Zealand was so very beautiful and varied. Absolutely beautiful.
    The conference sure looked like fun.’re getting real good with the juggling.
    It’s so lovely you could spend time with friends.Friends are such a treasure and enrich and bless our lives.
    I sue have enjoyed your writing style and look forward to your next post.

    • Thank you, Grandma! It’s fun to continue to savor and remember these experiences through the blog, and we’re so glad you are enjoying it! I think it’s worth all the time and effort to put the posts together, for sure. :)

  2. Trisha terry Says: July 15, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Beautiful images as always! Such an adventure! New Zealand is definitely on my travel bucket list.

  3. SOOO fun to see these photos, and I especially enjoyed the video which captured so many fun memories for our families (I will have to get a copy)!! Thank you for recording and sharing…and especially for fitting us into your memories, too!

  4. Dhammika Alawatte / Maddumage Says: August 14, 2017 at 10:41 am

    This Wonderful family on Travel takes us to those untapped territories & opened their wisdom & appreciation of nature & beauties of the globe – people & places & things in such a subtle but deep way. It was great meeting with you lovely folks & see you soon again sometime . Enjoy !

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