I have heard from a few friends that read my blog that while they enjoy following along, they are also insanely jealous of our trip and also that we got to skip out on a horrible CNY winter. To those friends–this is my last New Zealand post, but it might make you a little jealous because it was probably the best one week trip ever. I’m sorry.
We left Christchurch on Easter Sunday and arrived in Queenstown at about 5pm.
It was easy to find a good picnic spot our drive. I can’t remember the name of this lake, but the mountain in the back is Mt. Cook.
a little mini session.
Rain and sun driving through Cornwall–the home of some really tasty pinot noir.
Love the fall colors.
The road up to Mt. Difficulty winery.
Queenstown is a tourist town that has it all. We started off the day taking the gondola up to check out the view of the city.
Sadie was having a bit of a sulk because we didn’t let her luge down. We also decided not to bungie jump.
After an overpriced lunch and a wander around the lake we boarded the Earnslaw Steamboat to do a farm tour.
The farm tour must be a top tourist tour because it was packed. There was one amazing tour guide for about 200 of us. We were introduced early to the head sheep dog–perhaps he was herding all 200 of us along.
puppy love. I guess we ignored the sign.
This is the view from a huge patio where they served some tea and goodies. As we were all sitting and enjoying the moment the head sheep dog from above came by with a kitten in his mouth. He then dropped the almost dead kitten in front of everyone. I guess he was trained to get rid of feral cats too?
Then the killer dog showed some more scary skills herding the sheep. Then our multi-talented guide after taking us around the farm and hosting tea sheared a sheep in front of us all.
Back on the steam boat a piano player lead folks singing old turn of the century US folk songs. It was a little weird.
Our big splurge was to do a tour of Doubtful Sound. In order to get there you have to take a bus, then a boat, then another bus ride to a power station down a deep tunnel to a power station, then a bus over a crazy gravel road until you finally get on another boat for a 3 hour trip through the sound out to the rough Tasman Sea.
From the first boat.
This was just crazy–you are in a bus going about 600 ft underground in the exposed rock. Sadie decided she never wanted to do that again and I’m pretty sure I don’t blame her.
Ahhh–back in the sunshine on the boat.
Lots of pretty views, plus some dolphins and penguins.
We left Queenstown onto yet another fantastic drive. It think it took us twice as long to get anywhere because I kept asking to stop the car.
Can you tell why?
Jason thought it was the best drive we have done yet in New Zealand. We stayed the night at a home stay right near Fox Glacier.
The next day we suited up and went on a guided tour onto Fox Glacier–you are only allowed onto the glacier with a guide.
A week before we arrived part of the glacier collapsed making the old route up to the glacier on the left side unsafe. I did ask–umm, were there any tours out when this happened? Our friendly guide said that she lead the last tour before it collapsed, but no one was hurt. The new route had the us needing to cross the river and they had a clever pulley system worked out.
The water looked pretty cold.
The view when you are not looking at the glacier.
I was ready to grab her at any minute if she slipped down that hole.
I think Sadie will go on any guided hike. She loved being right next to our guide (in red).
See that little ice cave behind us? You were allowed to go into it for a look around. We were told it was really cool and it won’t be around too long. Sadie and I decided that we were not convinced that they knew when the ice cave was going to collapse, so we opted out.
Brave Echo and Jason had a look inside.
It was awesome being out there, but I keep thinking that this would never be a tour in the US. There were rock slides. A fairly small one happened while we were there and the guides were like–awesome, sweet–check it out. I was like–keep moving!!!
I was scared, but it was so awesome and probably the highlight for me of the week–even though I skipped out on the “sweet” cave. Our guide said sweet about 300 times.
As I was grabbing more photos I noticed that the guides really seemed to be pushing us along and were pulling folks over the river much faster than on our ride out. Apparently there was another collapse and big chunks of ice were going to be coming down in the river soon and they wanted us off before they came. Someone actually has the job of sitting up high on the glacier and watching it for collapses to warm the folks below–apparently you have about 5-10 minutes to prepare.
We only saw some larger chucks of ice.
We were back from the glacier in time for an awesome outdoor lunch. Now tell me–if there was a restaurant with a an outdoor patio like this and this view, would it ever be empty?
And right from the restaurant a beautiful hike.
Our day ended with another rainbow. We drove a short distance to Franz Joseph glacier and did a short hike in the rain. I thought a rainbow hitting a glacier would be the perfect photo to end my New Zealand travel journal.
And–for those of you still reading. Our trip has been amazing. It has been one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and I am so glad we took it. Did it cost a lot of money–yes–we will be paying it off for awhile. Was it complicated–yes! Our oldest daughter will have to re-take some classes and it will put her off of her old track. The kids had to un-enroll from school when we left and I have to re-register them again when we return. We have had to ask favors of all of our friends and neighbors which will be hard to ever repay. I had to put my business on hold and miss out on lots of great sessions, weddings, and births.
On a lesser note, we haven’t been able to watch Game of Thrones, or The Daily Show, or Call the Midwife (that is just me). There is no netflix or hulu here. no creamer for my coffee, no goldfish crackers (the girls mention), no cereal choices (just cornflakes, rice crispies or granola).
We have missed birthdays, and hanging out with friends, and dinner parties. We have had people over to our house one time since moving here (not including 11 and 14 year old friends).
All first world problems I know.
And if you are still feeling jealous–to get back home we will first take a 14 hour plane ride, then a 5 hour flight, and finally a three hour flight. On our way out our luggage was lost and we were three days late with flight cancellations, so I never expect an easy flight.
And, if any of you get or take a chance to do something like this–I am ready to follow along and help out with your pets or empty house back in Syracuse.
And our girls–now they are the ones I am jealous of. They are the ones that really got to get immersed in the culture here and they both made great friends. If they come back to New Zealand they will have a place to stay for free.
Thanks for following along and I will see you all soon back in Syracuse–probably at Target or Wegmans.
Oh, and my June schedule is almost full. Email me if you are wanting a summer session.
Christchurch has been our home city while we are living in New Zealand. As you might have been able to tell from our many weekend trips to beautiful places it is a great base for exploring the south island. Before the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes that destroyed much of Christchurch the city was a tourist destination as well, with lots of good restaurants, beautiful parks and a thriving city. To be fair the city still has pretty parks, and some good restaurants, but now when tourists visit it is to see a damaged city. The 2010 earthquake was larger than the 2011 one, but in 2011 the earthquake was so violent in it’s shaking that it was one of the or the strongest earthquake ever recorded in an urban area.
It has now been three years since the earthquake and in many ways you could go into the city and think that the earthquake happened 6 months ago.
This was the famous cathedral that was destroyed. There are so many barriers around the city and many of them have been decorated, providing a little bit of positive in all the destruction.
The building behind this barrier is also off limits and empty. When you first arrive in the city you look around and see buildings that are still standing, but then when you get a closer look you see that they have been deemed unsafe and empty. I don’t know when or if these buildings will come down or be repaired. I have read that it will take Christchurch 50-100 years to completely recover at a cost of over 40 billion.
A creative little playground in front of an abandoned building. The play stuff is made from the trash from the city after the earthquakes.
I didn’t feel too safe letting my kids play under a building that was deemed unsafe, but….
Art in front of the empty buildings.
This little street is tucked in-between the buildings from the previous photos. It was restored and opened last year and is a little colorful oasis in the middle of grey empty buildings and rubble.
The city has small little spots of recovery. The Re-Start Mall is some pedestrian only streets that have shops created from shipping containers.
This is the site of the CTV building where almost half of the deaths from the earthquake occurred when it collapsed.
The cardboard cathedral that opened in August.
Jason just finished up writing his reflections on living here for a report, and he sums our Christchurch experience well.
Living in Christchurch has opened our eyes to community issues that we’ve never experienced. Natural disasters are not a part of life back home—Syracuse is not subject to any major natural disturbances. So witnessing Christchurch’s attempts to reinvent itself after what in some cases seems comparable to reconstruction after the War has been fascinating and heartbreaking in equal measure. When you meet people for the first time, you quickly get their ‘earthquake story’—what they were doing when the second more devastating quake hit, and what happened in the aftermath. It is astonishing how many people had to leave their homes, and in some cases are still out of their homes even three years later. Nearly everyone has had to move around to some extent, both their living circumstances and their place of business. And yet people are still here, shops keep popping up everywhere, kids don’t appear unusually traumatized (I find this particularly remarkable), and the tourists still come to see a city centre that is mostly not there. To be sure, people are frustrated with local government, and I’m sure we talk to a more affluent cross section of town than the average, but on the whole life here goes on. We have never experienced something like this and it’s reassuring to see such resilience in a community.
Christchurch will need loads of resilience. The earthquakes have changed many things underground as well as above ground which are contributing to lots of other problems in the city–pot holes, sewer issues, and recently floods. Twice in the 4 months we have been here our neighborhood has flooded. Here are some photos from near us.
I know I don’t paint a pretty picture of the city of Christchurch. It isn’t pretty right now with all of the abandoned buildings and construction work, and floods. It has been a very welcoming city to us and seeing what these people have had to live through I am continually amazed that there is humor and light to be found.
We got to drive over Arthur’s Pass again to visit the west coast town of Punakaki. I like how all mountains that you have to cross are called passes. Echo said on a recent drive over some pass, “mom I can tell you are nervous because of how you grip the armrest”. Yup–and can you blame me with these things to pass over and through??
Almost all of the bridges are oneway , sometimes the bridge is right at the bottom of a really steep grade where you wonder if the brakes on the car heading for you will work, or sometimes it is a one way bridge that is also shared by a train like this one! And railway crossings here don’t have those nice arms that come down to make sure you stop–you just have to keep aware.
The clouds in this country are always right next to and on top of you.
And then there are parts of the road like this. It is a little blurry because I think I might have had my eyes closed. To be honest I actually like this part of this pass. At least here you can tell they are protecting you from the slips (what we call land slides). Usually you just see a lot of slips and thank goodness you timed your drive correctly.
Once we made it over the pass we were on the coast and it was sunset. I really should have insisted that we pull over so I could sit and enjoy this sunset, but instead I grabbed these photos out of the window of the car. We had hungry kids in the car and it was getting late.
This was what the sky looked like when we finally arrived.
The next morning we made our way out to the Pancake rocks trail–our first of three times on the trail because we loved it so much.
Here if the girls look a bit nervous it is because they are walking past the blow hole that occasionally makes a large noise and sprays water. We arrived right before a big storm so the ocean was wild and the waves were huge.–a really dramatic time. I think technically the pancake rocks are heavily eroded limestone . I loved it.
A small bit of stray from the blow hole.
And then there is this!
The girls waiting for a show.
Having fun with my plastic lens.
Exploring the beach.
We were met at Punakaki by Jason’s dad and step-mom in our first of two visits from back home. Sadie thought the ocean was a bit wild and preferred to stay up on the rock for safety. Also the sand was pretty hard to walk on–mostly pebbles.
See that canvas print above the girls head? I will have many of those.
When we went back to the pancake rocks the blow holes were even more dramatic.
See how my kids are wearing flip flops. This would be a good time to mention if you ever visit the west coast of the south island don’t let any skin show. We found out about the sandfly the hard way and in Punakaiki it was the worst. They just look like a gnat, but my poor kids will probably have scars for life on their feet from all the bites they got. I bet if you put a microscope to this image there feet would be covered in them.
Next up–some photographs of Christchurch, our home for the last few months when we are not off exploring.
As aways, thanks for following along.
Abel Tasman is a national park on the north side of the south island of New Zealand. We went for a weekend to hike part of the Abel Tasman track. Since we couldn’t fit in the whole 32 miles while we were there we took a water taxi up the coast and hiked about 16 miles back to our car–stopping half way to sleep on a house boat.
The north part of the south island is know as the sunny side and it lived up to it’s reputation while we were there.
Leaving on the water taxi was pretty fun. Since we left at low tide we were pulled out by a tractor. I was impressed.
Heading out on our hike.
This was the view for most of the hiking.
We did not time our hike to work with a low tide crossing of this section of the trail. If we were not carting sleeping gear we might have been able to walk across, but the water was cool and although it might not look like it, the water was pretty deep. Echo insisted on trying and ended up turning back once the water hit her shorts. Taking the high trail adds an additional 1.5 hours.
This was the ending spot for the first part of our hike. We relaxed a bit before getting picked up for the house boat we slept on. Looking at the beautiful water all day got me excited for some warm relaxing time on the beach. Unfortunatey this beach was were I was first introduced the worst pest on New Zealand –the sand fly. Relaxing on the sand was no longer an option, but in the water they were manageable.
We saw a few sting rays close to shore.
This view was the first thing in New Zealand to remind me of Hawaii.
In order to get space on the house boat we had to split up. The kids had a bunk down below while Jason and I had a double bed on the top of the boat. I guess we could have given the kids the double room, but we didn’t want to spoil them too much.
Here is a peek at the bunk room. My lens wasn’t really wide enough to show much, but there were at least 8 bunks on one side below and another 8 on the other side. It was not a place for anyone with claustrophobia.
The boat was full when we stayed and a solo traveler quickly decided to jump off the top of the boat when we got there. His jump inspired Sadie to do a jump off of the main deck, followed quickly by a warm shower.
The view from our room. We got the room all to ourselves until about midnight when Sadie made her way up there and slept at our feet.
The second day of hiking was much like the first.
Making the 5 hour drive back to Christchurch we passed by many hop farms.
If you are keeping track–we haven’t spent one weekend in Christchurch since arriving at our house. The kids have done a bit of complaining, but we only have 4 moths here and a lot to see!
Arthur’s Pass is about an 1.5 hour trip from Christchurch. Jason was anxious to get into the mountains so we went on our second weekend on the south island. The whole drive there is pretty stunning.
I have now driven on this road 3 or 4 times and the clouds are always amazing and low in the sky.
Heading out on a waterfall hike. Waterfalls are a dime a dozen here.
Another amazing well maintained trail with a beautiful payoff at the end.
The bog trail.
The Bealey Spur trail–amazing!
I loved this braided river. The town itself is great for a weekend–with a few restaurants and cafe’s. We stayed in a great little motel where we could cook our own dinner and ended up watching the extended Lord of the Rings on TV in our New Zealand filmed movie bing (it doesn’t take long).
It was a bit cold for camping when we were there, but it would have been a nice camping area. The kea bird can be a pest I’ve heard, but it was great to see it. The kea is the only alpine parrot and man is it funny, and they are easy to see in Arthur’s Pass. I saw it harassing quite a few people who were eating outside. It has also been known to eat the rubber off tires and destroy packs and bike seats so I guess you need to know some tricks to keep it from ruining your vacation.
Next up–hiking the Abel Tasman track.
It is time to show off some of the amazing south island of New Zealand. I have been living here for four months and despite my best intentions to do witty daily blogs I am now just going to cram a ton of pretty pictures into a few posts. I think I have learned that I could never make my way as a career blogger and hats off to those who do.
If you read guides books about New Zealand they usually say that the South island is the most beautiful of the two island and if you can only visit one island in New Zealand you should go there. After having just spend a week exploring the places on the south island that I couldn’t get to on weekend trips from Christchurch I have to agree with the hype. Let me show you what I am talking about.
Our first weekend in Christchurch (when it was still summer here) we drove about 1.5 hours away to the little town of Akaroa. During the winter the population is about 500-600, but during the summer there are closer to 2,000 people who stay here, and since the 2011 Christchurch earthquake cruise ships also dock here with an additional 2-3,000 visitors on cruise days.
On our Saturday visit it was busy, but not crazy.
I grabbed this shot out of the car wind as we drove to Akaroa. The ride there is pretty curvy and I was feeling a tad car sick as usual here.
Crowded for New Zealand. I really have yet to experience true crowds here. The choice outdoor tables at the restaurants were full and parking wasn’t great, but you still had plenty of space to spread out.
We came to Akaroa on a whim and also booked a nature cruise on a whim. It turned out to be such a beautiful and fun cruise. Our only other nature cruise was when we went on our Hawaii whale watch. This one did give us a glass of wine, but there was no unlimited drinks and snacks like in Hawaii–which was a good thing since we needed to drive the windy road back.
Looking out to the Tasman sea from the protected bay.
We got to see the rarest dolphin of all–the Hector’s dolphin.
We went out for a bit to the Tasman sea to see a seal colony.
If you look closely you can see seals playing.
Akaroa is a perfect day trip from Christchurch and such a world away.
Here are a few looks at the streets around us in Christchurch–not quite as exotic as Akaroa.
Thirty minutes from us is the town of Lytellton, a major port town. On one of the few hot summer days we explored one of the beaches there.
The town was still in recovery mode from the 2011 earthquake so there was lots of construction.
Next up–the mountain town of Arthur’s Pass.
I am finally caught up on editing my New Zealand photos and I now have time to work on years and years worth of family photos that I never had time to look at. Yeah! However with blogging I am very behind. Are you still curious about New Zealand?
Funny–these photos are from Feb., right in the middle of summer in New Zealand. Today, the weather for the week is much cooler–we are in the middle of Autumn and the days are getting shorter and colder. I’ve heard the worst winter here is one where it rains everyday and unfortunately the weather next week looks like all blah.
So–let’s look at some summer in New Zealand photos.
Here Echo is taking a little break from one of our many hikes. This park reminded me of Green Lakes State Park back home in Fayetteville. This was a DOC natural area called Lake Rotopounamu near Lake Taupo.
We love dragging our kids along to wine tastings. I wonder if they enjoy the view as much as we do. This is the view from the Esk Valley Estate Winery in Napier. We sat outside for a picnic until rain came in. I pretended that this was the view from my front yard.
We set up camp at another holiday park type place right on the ocean in Napier.
Here I am looking down on our site.
And this is the view the other way towards the ocean.
More winery photos. The birds are especially bad here for the grapes so they have them all covered.
Napier was deserted when we went. It is known for it’s art deco style.
More of the Napier coastline.
Look–another little rainbow, and I’m not even in Hawaii anymore.
I have a very large collection of wave photos. I just can’t get enough of this view.
We spent our last week on the North Island in the beautiful city of Wellington. Our first night was spent learning about Maori culture and we spent a night at a marae. A Marae is like the center for Maori community life. The one we stayed at had a large sleeping room/meeting room and a separate kitchen/eating area. The building serves as a ceremonially center, a place to welcome guests, have parties, meetings, etc. We learned some traditions such as the greeting of touching noses called the hongi, and we were were welcomed to the marae with ceremony and songs and speeches.
We were even treated to a haka performance–which is sort of like a war dance with chanting and music. In both Echo and Sadie’s school here learning this type of performance is an optional after school activity.
It really was amazing to have one of our first introductions to the country of New Zealand to be all about the native Maori people. It was a highlight of our time in Wellington for sure.
Wellington is a really cool and vibrant city. It was actually the only city we have visited in New Zealand that really felt active and busy.
The Wellington museum has the largest squid ever know on display. This museum was also free–an amazing thing to find here in New Zealand.
My next blog post will be all about the wild South Island. Thanks again for following along.
I am feeling a bit guilty today waiting for Sadie to get home from school. She is struggling with some sort of virus right now–something that makes her feel tired and has given her a rash, but no fever and nothing to really keep her home from school. I found out that we don’t really have health insurance while we are out here. Well, we have our US insurance, but there is a large deductible to be met so I hemmed and hawed about taking her in. I finally decided I better rule out strep, and we did, but now I am just a bit poorer and still have a slightly sick kid who I sent off to school after the doctor’s appointment–hence the feeling guilty feeling.
This is a good time to mention how great the kids have been on this journey. While they haven’t really been thanking us for taking them on an amazing, extended vacation to a warm spot during a cold NY winter, they also haven’t complained too much. I think we have done some really fun things, but we didn’t hit any amusement parks and we don’t really try to cater the vacation to them==so all in all it has been a success so far.
After Hobbiton we drove to the town of Rotorua. Rotorua is known for it’s thermals springs (think hot and smelly). Some things we read called it RotoVegas because of how touristy and crowded it can be, but we honestly found it pretty empty and quaint–not words I would use to describe Vegas. For instance check out this little hike along a spring that we found.
It also had a ton of CA coastal redwoods–they were only a century old, but already 55 m tall.
At the end of the hike there was a 50ft deep spring. The water was ice cold, but we did see some kids jumping in.
Driving around town at sunset.
About 20 minutes away was the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park.
We spent about 2 hours hiking around on the self-guided trail with the strong sulphur smell, but crazy beautiful and strange.
Sometimes the smoke and steam made it so that you couldn’t see anything.
We had our next campground practically to ourselves. It would have been perfect except for the abundance of wasps. We didn’t get stung, but they were everywhere. This was also the only campsite where we were able to have a fire.
The basic facilities .
There was a great hike right from the campground.
We went right from our campsite off to Tongariro National Park. We had been prepping the kids since Syracuse about the hike we were going to do here–an all day 20 km trek on a volcano. Before that hike we did a “leg stretcher” on a 6km hike to Taranaki Falls.
Views of the volcano (also known as Mt. Doom).
We were supposed to camp that night, but we decided to upgrade to a cabin because it was quite cold at night and we didn’t really have the best gear for it. I was happy we upgraded the next morning when we had to get up at 4:30 to get ready for our ride to the trailhead.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposedly the best and most popular day hike in all of New Zealand. There have been recent eruptions so there were lots of warnings about, but for our hike the volcano seemed calm.
There was awesome cloud cover that slowly rolled in.
The kids were in a pretty good mood for having woken up so early. We did pack candy bars and they seemed to want to be full speed ahead.
Much of the first part of the trail is very easy with boardwalks and stairs.
Always looming the volcano.
This was where the trail got a little tricky. There was lots of hard uphill parts, but they were stairs and the trail was easily marked. Here you just had to scramble up loose rocks. And with the with blowing my hair around I couldn’t see a thing.
One of the Emerald Lakes.
This was the scariest part of the trail for me–heading down this trail. I am having trouble uploading my video–but there was a very steep drop off on both sides and the rocks were very loose.
The active steam vents on the north side.
The kids keep a quick pace. I wonder if all of the warning signs kept them moving along?
with the big view. J took this photo. I must have been too cozy to get up.
The Hobbiton movie set tour is about what you would expect. For two hours you are guided through the Hobbit village with 44 hobbit holes with lots of photo-ops. The set looks exactly how you would image it if you have seen the movies. The Bag End oak tree was completely fake with steel branches and plastic leaves imported from Thailand. There was only one hole that you could actually go into, but inside wasn’t decorated at all–it was just to film the actors opening the door, or standing at the door. The indoor shots of the hobbit holes were created somewhere else.
The attention to detail was amazing and the stories the guides told made me think that working on a set for Peter Jackson would have been very difficult (especially if you were the one who had to paint leaves or change apples to pears, etc. )
Although it was certainly a tourist site it was pretty cool to wander around a movie set and the kids especially enjoyed it because we were currently watching the movies with them.
Some of my many photos on our tour.
The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can have a beer, ginger beer, or hard cider along with various other treats.