In nine years of marriage my husband and I have only gone away together without the kids once. It was to celebrate our wedding anniversary. As much as I know how good it is for couples to take time out together, I always saw the obstacles to organising a weekend away ahead of anything else.
Who was going to look after the kids? What about their weekend sports games? I felt guilty about leaving them behind. It would hardly be worth it - by the time we got there it would be time to turn around and come back. We'd probably just spend the whole time talking about the kids anyway...
And then a work contact sent me on a staycation.
A staycation is a holiday where you don't leave town, so the beauty of it is that if something does go wrong and you need to return home, it's only a 15-minute drive. There is something very reassuring about that for a helicopter mum.
We live in Auckland, and because the city is so large I found that staying in another part of the city actually did feel like we were in another town. We traveled from our place on the North Shore to the Quality Hotel Parnell.
Check-in wasn't until 12pm so we detoured to Forme Spa for a couples massage - this weekend was going to be filled with activities we never normally did.
"I'm not sure if I'm going to enjoy it," my husband told me. But his massage therapist did some work on his arthritic knee and that night, for the first time since he could remember, he slept all the way through, pain-free. He is now a massage convert.
I had no such misgivings; I love massages and this didn't disappoint. I floated out of Forme. It was a great way to kick off the weekend because we were completely chilled for the rest of the day.
We spent the rest of the morning at La Cigale French markets. Voted Auckland's Best Food Market by Metro magazine for the past eight years, the Saturday morning market is inspired by food markets of France.
We spent ages looking at the fresh produce, breads, pastries, jams, fish, cheeses, meats and more - and the coffee was superb too.
Another pleasant half-hour was spent wandering round the Parnell Rose Gardens then we crossed the road to our hotel.
As we entered our hotel room and closed the door behind us the first thing I was struck by was the silence. I love peace and quiet and it's hard to get that at home.
The room was spacious, the bed was big and comfortable and we had lovely views of the city and harbour. I lay down and promptly fell asleep.
The thing with having all that alone time with my husband was that as weird as it felt to begin with, it was a good weird. We didn't talk about the kids. We also skipped the functional conversations like who's picking up which child from where and what to cook for dinner. When you're out of routine, you reconnect on a different level.
We had fun; we explored, we shopped, we ate a delicious meal at 46 & York. We enjoyed a late breakfast together the next morning at the Quality Hotel Parnell restaurant, then went whale and dolphin watching.
Our experience with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari was one of the best experiences I've ever had. We loved it so much we made the video that you see above in this story.
There is something about being out on the ocean, surrounded by blue and seeing these beautiful animals that makes you feel alive. It humbles you and reminds you of the paramount importance of conserving our oceans and all their amazing wildlife.
Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari take daily tours out in to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, which is home to many species including the common dolphin and the critically endangered Brydes Whale. The marine park covers 1.2 million hectares and the boat's skipper and crew never take the same journey twice. When they find animals they are careful not to overstay their welcome and in turn the animals trust them and allow them to visit again.
We were lucky; we saw two large pods of dolphins and two sets of Brydes whales, including a mother and her calf.
Massey University researchers go on every trip and photo ID the animals. This helps them monitor their behaviours and keep track of numbers.
The researchers also test the water to check plankton levels and the 'health' of the ocean. All of this data informs the Department of Conservation on how best to preserve the marine park and its animals. Toxins from pollution is a serious risk to marine life.
Driving home, slightly sunburnt, full on mince pie from the Safari's onboard cafe and utterly wowed, we made a promise.
"Let's do this again," said my husband. To which I replied, "Yeah."
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