Monday, June 16, 2008

CanTeen Relaxation Weekend in Rotorua

I have just come back from a fantastic weekend away as a CanTeen Volunteer. CanTeen is an organization that provides support for teenagers and young adults who are affected by cancer - they either have had cancer, are in treatment, have a sibling with cancer or have lost a family member to cancer. It's a fantastic organization and it is very dear to my heart.

I have really missed this. For the past three years I have put my volunteering on the backburner because I have been focused on my new role as a mother. I miss working with kids in a fun and positive environment (being a mother is SOOOOOOOO different than being a camp counselor and I need the balance to keep me sane). I loved my summers as a camp counselor at Camp Oochigeas - a camp for children with cancer in Muskoka. CanTeen is much different - they have activities throughout the year and the focus is on teenagers rather than children.

This weekend was the "Relaxation Weekend in Rotorua" but it was so jam packed with activities that you can hardly call it a "relaxation" weekend. It was AWESOME!!!

These photos are of Meriwai (above) and Aisha (on the right) at Te Puia with some Maori carvings. Meriwai is showing me the facial expression the females would use during times of conflict. Aisha won't poke his tongue out because it would be disrespectful.

Bex is the co-ordinator for the Bay of Plenty division. She picked me up at 3:00 on Friday afternoon in a cab with a jovial but VERY deaf cabdriver. I was highly entertained in the backseat as Bex tried to have a conversation with our driver. She would say something and he would reply totally randomly. I sat in the back giggling. We picked up two vans from a local car rental place - Bex took dibs on the smaller 10 seater so I got stuck with the 12 seater beast! It was a good experience but a little scary driving a bunch of kids through winding narrow roads in an old manual diesel van!!!

We stayed at a brand new backpackers in Rotorua. The building was completely self-contained so we didn't have to worry about being too noisy and disturbing the other guests. There were 5 rooms on the main level, each with two or three bunks. Upstairs there was a large lounge with 6 leather sofas, a large kitchen with three large tables with bench seats and a double bedroom with ensuite. It was ideal for groups - so much better than staying at a hotel. A few of the volunteers (including me) stayed in the main backpackers lodge which meant a much more peaceful sleep!

There were 31 of us in total. Groups of CanTeeners came from the Waikato region (Hamilton), Bay of Plenty (Tauranga) and East Cape (Gisborne). Some of the kids were new to CanTeen and some have been around for years. We spent Friday night playing name games to get to know everyone. We had Dominos Pizza and KFC (yep, we get that crap here too) for dinner and ate heaps of lollies and bickies (a.k.a. candy and cookies).

We got an early start Saturday so that we could fit everything into our day. First we headed to "Te Puia" which is a geothermal park geared for tourists. I've been to quite a few of the geothermal parks in Rotorua but I try to avoid the tourist traps... mainly because they are so expensive. Te Puia was nice but I can't honestly say it was any better than the free parks. It was fancier and had paved walkways... but I rather prefer the natural mud paths. We had a tour guide named TJ - he was the first gay Maori I've ever seen! I think that was the highlight of the tour for me! TJ gave a great tour and he was very tolerant of the noisy teenagers. We got to watch a kiwi bird eating grubs in a natural enclosure. TJ showed us how the Maori people used flax to make clothes and we all got to make rosettes out of flax.

We then hopped in the vans and drove out to the Lake District where we were going on an afternoon cruise around Lake Tarawera in a private charter boat. The skipper took us out fishing (we caught one Rainbow Trout) and to a place where natural hot springs come out from the bottom of the lake to create a steamy hot beach where you can swim. None of us jumped in though - because it was a little too cool outside. Shame, that would have been a great experience. I'll have to put that on my list of things to do in the future. It was a really relaxing cruise and it made me feel like I was back in Canada - with the fall colours and the freshwater lakes.

Our next stop was Hell's Gate Waiora Spa for a nice soak in the mud baths and mineral pools. It leaves your skin amazingly soft (unless you're Abby - bottom right photo in the bath with Bex - who had an allergic reaction to the mud causing her eyes to practically swell shut).

It was a very full day - but it wasn't finished yet. We headed back to the hostel for a couple of hours before heading to the Polytech where the Chef School was hosting a beautifully catered dinner for all of us. They were so generous, the meal was absolutely delicious. It was served buffet style so we could chose what we liked and have as much as we wanted. There was plenty of it too. We dined by candlelight and there were servers for each table who placed our napkins on our laps and kept filling our water glasses. It was nicer than some of the really fancy restaurants I've eaten at.

What a day! Back at the hostel, the kids had a reverse sex fashion show (where they had to get creative with simple items to create fashion as the opposite sex - girls dressed as guys and guys as girls). Lianne, Bex, Abby, Aisha & I were the judges. The kids were so creative and made us laugh so hard!! It reminded me just how carefree teenagers are and how uninhibited they can be. It was so refreshing enjoying them. I think the more I spend with CanTeen, the better mother I will be.

Sunday was a little less busy. A few of us headed to the 'paint your own ceramic' craft place while some others played water polo at the Blue Baths. We all met later at the driving range to play some mini putt, hit some golf balls and have a go at the batting cages. We were on the road heading back home by 2pm.

I am so glad that I went. I needed to reconnect with the teenager inside of me - it's been a while.

1 comment:

Jade said...

Hi Tracy, my name is Jade and I'm the Brand Manager for CanTeen. I found your story and loved it, thanks so much for Volunteering!

Would like ot maybe use some of your story for the next national magazine and any great pictures that Bex doesn't have, you can email me on