New Zealand 12/22/10-1/2/11

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For Christmas break, this year, we decided to check off another travel destination. We headed to New Zealand. We figured we would never make it there once we were back in the US. We took an 11 hour over night flight to Auckland. Unfortunately, there was a baby on the flight that cried for about 3 hours straight. There also was a lot of turbulence.  From Auckland, we flew to Christ Church.  Once there we got our luggage and rental car. It took forever for them to get the car ready for us!  Finally, we were on our way to the hotel in CC.  (After figuring out how to get  6 people and all our luggage in the van)  Our hotel was in the heart of the city right next to the Christ Church Cathedral.  We had three rooms. Two of them had two beds and one had a King size bed. Lyndon and I took that one and the kids “fought” over the other two.  The one room was HUGE!!!!I think we all could have fit into it.  After settling in we decided to walk around and get the lay of the area.  The church was having their  Christmas pageant service with the children and live animals.  There were vendors with food and souvenirs in the park.  Performers were dancing the Haka dance in the square.  We enjoyed some kabobs and fries while taking it all in.  We checked out the information sites and figured out everything.  After some rest and showering back at the hotel we walked to the Botanical Gardens. They were BEAUTIFUL.  I think we took about 50 pictures of just flowers.  Then we went to dinner at Cooking with Gas, a restaurant recommended by Lyndon’s co worker.  It was great. Our trip was off to a good start.

The next day, we headed to Akaroa. A waterside village. It was about an hour drive.  As we soon found out, every drive was beautiful.  It was either mountains or alleys or rivers or sheep in the pastures everywhere you looked.  Once we got to the village and started to walk around a storm came in so we did not get to do much.  We drove back and stopped in an Olive grove.  We tasted olive oil and olives.  Appropriate for the Olivers.   Another stop was at Birdlings Flat.  There was a “beach” of rocks. They were all really smooth. It was pretty cool. As we got back to Christ Church, the weather was clear so we took a gondola up a mountain with a beautiful overlook of Christ Church. We went on a small hike and figured out how to do a remote/timer  picture of the family.   As it was Christmas Eve  we found a Catholic church and went to evening mass. Then we went to a great mexican restaraunt called The Flying Burrito Brothers. I won’t discuss all the card games we played since I was never successful.

On Christmas morning, we got up early to head towards Fox Glacier.  A 5 hour drive. A few stops along the way were at an area of rocks called Castle Hill.  It had tons of huge rock formations.  Another was a beautiful waterfall we hiked up to.  We got a little wet on that one.  A small but important fact to tell people when travelling in NZ on Christmas Day is that nothing is open.  We stopped in the town of  Hokitika and we only could find an Indian restaurant that was open.  We decided it was Lyndon’s culture to celebrate that day!  We next stopped at the Franz Josef Glacier. We did not have time to hike all the way there but got pretty close.  It was drizzly and cool and we had to be at our hotel for dinner by 7:30 so we cut it short.  The rocks were interesting. We found 4 that spell out LOVE. Check out the picture later.  We got to the hotel and had some “nibbles”  before dinner.

The next morning we got up early to head out for our Fox Glacier hike.

Fox Glacier

The day after Christmas we climbed Fox Glacier. We arrived at the meeting spot at 9:00am and were given hiking boots, rain coats, socks, backpack and clampons (they are spikes that clip on to your boot so that you can climb the glacier easily.)We were rushed because we had the wrong time on our information.  We must have been in a hurry because they gave Catherine two different size shoes and she did not realize it until about a half hour into the hike. After getting bundled up, we got on the bus for short drive to the glacier. On the way there, we crossed over the fault line which is due for a major earthquake. Our guide told us a lot of information about the plates that NZ sits on and how they expect a huge earthquake at some time.  Strangely there was an earthquake that same day in Christ Church. When we got to the Glacier, we started our hike. This hike took us through dangerous rock falling sites, waterfalls, rivers, rainforest, and amazing views of the glacier. It was actually warm and we were working up a sweat. We hiked up many steps and climbed on a steep cliff. Luckily, this was nothing compared to our Mount Fuji climb. On the hike we drank straight from a waterfall. This water is used for the tap in New Zealand. NZ has some of the best tap water in the world.  Everywhere we went it seemed they were mentioning what river or water source their tap water comes from. When we finally got to the start of the glacier, we had to put on our crampons. There were people on the glacier chopping out the ice, making  steps for us so that we could walk on it. We walked around on the glacier for about one hour. It was really cool. On the glacier there was melting happening while we were standing on it. There were “holes” in the glacier where water was flowing, due to the melting. Graham, our approximately 60 year old tour guide (who was wearing shorts) said that every day the glacier loses about 2cm a day in height. We got the chance to walk through an ice tunnel. It was very pretty. The glacier was a light blue color. The ice is so thick and old that the color that reflects the most is the blue.  On our way back, it started drizzling. We went back a different way. We walked alongside the glacier, instead of going through the mountains. This way was through huge rocks that had fallen. Eventually we got back to the van and drove back. We cleaned up and received our Fox Glacier Hike certificate. We all enjoyed climbing our first glacier!

We found some lunch at a place that looked like a dive but was pretty good. Michael and Lyndon played some pool. After we went back to the hotel and rested a bit Lyndon and I went to the lake for a short hike around it. There are supposed to be beautiful views but it was really cloudy and raining a little bit so it was just a pretty,peaceful walk. We weren’t going to do the whole lake but ended up walking it all. We checked out their Catholic church but it was about the size of a small barn and only had masses every other weekend.The rain continued all night and pounded on the tin roof hotel. Needless to say I did not sleep well.

The next morning, we were heading to Queenstown.  It was raining so hard.  Along the way there were waterfalls coming off the sides of the mountains.  It was so heavy that some of them came into the road.  There were severe weather warnings out.  We did not get to enjoy the stops along the way on this drive.  We stopped in Wanaka for lunch.It is  a cute lakeside village. We had a great meal at a place called Relishes.  We stopped at a winery in the Central Otago valley called Peregrine Winery. Lyndon picked up some wine there.  The home of the original bungy jumping bridge was along this drive as well. We checked it out but weren’t ready to commit just yet.  Finally in Queenstown we found our next lodging. It was a beautiful resort called Millbrook. We had a huge 3 bedroom condo.  We  cleaned up, checked out reservations for the next day then went into town . Another great dinner  recommendation by Glen, Pier 19.

In the morning it was raining still  but we had to go on in to town to check out whether or not they were going to go on with the white water rafting. Our trip was to be there at 8:15.  They did cancel. Our next trip was at 4:30 on the shotover jets. They said they were cancelled until 1:30 but to check back later. The rivers were all at flood levels because of so much rain.  We decided to check out the bungy jumping counter. We could get a spot at 12:00. They were open even in the rain. So the kids all decided to do it.  We went back to our room and planned to get back and up the gondola by 11:45.

Bungy Jumping

One of the most exciting things we did in New Zealand was bungy jumping. After our Whitewater Rafting trip was rained out, we decided to check out the bungy place for openings despite the heavy rain. It turned out there was space and we were booked for 12:00, 400 meters above Queenstown for a 47 meter fall. We were able to buy a ticket for the gondola up and the bungy jumping and either 3 jumps or 5 luge rides.

We took the gondola up in the POURING rain, got registered, and harnessed up. Mom and Dad waited on the viewing platform with the cameras, while the rest of us waited on the platform. They told us we could jump three times.  They did not say anything about the 5 luges so we thought what a bargain we get to do both! Michael jumped first with a shriek and he decided not to go again. I went second and loved every minute of it and went 2 more times. Catherine and Emily went 3 times as well. We went backwards the second time and did cool jumps the third time. It was exhilarating and just the most amazing experience.

When the bungy jumping was over, we were freezing because of the pouring rain, 5 degree temperatures, and whipping winds. We went inside to get hot chocolates and just as we were checking out, the power went out (we didn’t get the hot chocolates). We ended up stuck at the top of the gondolas for about 2 hours with about 200 other people (part of which was a big group of very loud Chinese). We bought dry socks and rain jackets from the gift shop and drank lots of free tea and coffee from the café. They eventually sent up a  bus and several  4-wheel drive cars to take people down the mountain.  We were put in a 4WD.  It was a curvy, bumpy ride.  One time the driver had to back up curves to make room for another car.  Finally we were able to get back on our way. By then, of course, the weather was beautiful and we explored Queenstown for a couple of hours before heading home with delicious pizza. Another Glen recommendation.

PS: We got vouchers to come back another day to do our luge rides. That is another person’s tale to tell.

Our driving was going to continue the next day. Off to Milford Sound for an overnight boat cruise.  The drive was another curvy hilly drive. Before  you hit Milford Sound there is a tunnel called the Homer Tunnel. It is a one way  road through the mountain and has no lights.  They use  a stop light system that lets cars go each way every 15  minutes.  It was a  very strange sensation driving through a  tunnel with no lights.  There is lots of ice and snow on the side of the road there.  On the way back Michael and I explored the ice a little.  We got to the boat area and loaded up for an overnight cruise.  We went through the sound which is actually a fiord. There are several fiords in NZ on the West coast there.  We took a small boat around the cove. Michael got to go swimming.  We saw seals.  There were many gorgeous views and waterfalls here as well.  The food was good and we just hung out on the boat.  A few of us felt a little sea sick but not too bad.   The next day we got off the boat around 9:30 am and started off to Te Anau.  There are some incredible glow worm caves there.

One of New Zealand’s natural highlights is the glowworm caves in Te Anau. After our adventure on the Milford sound, we drove two hours and hopped on another boat. This boat took us to the glowworm caves. We sped across the lake against the wind. Some of us went onto the top deck of the boat. It was so windy that you could barely stand up.  You had to hold on to the railing or else you would fall down. Once we got to the caves area we got into smaller groups and started hiking through the caves.  They are actually a huge system of caves but we only go through the very small section at the beginning. At one point we get into small boats.  It is pitch dark and you can not talk. You look up and it is like looking into a full lit night sky with constellations all around you.  The worms were glowing everywhere.  You are actually seeing a tiny “bulb” glow at the end of the worm’s tail. The hungrier they are the brighter they shine. They catch their food by lowering a silk string that contains a poison to catch its prey. This experience was relaxing. For many years these caves were a Maori legend  but  were recently rediscovered. After visiting the cave we took a nature tour where we were able learn about the native birds and animals. This historical and fun adventure was a family favorite.

We ended up that afternoon back in Queenstown early enough to head back up the gondola. We checked out the bungy jumping for me and Lyndon but darn if it wasn’t full for the rest of the afternoon!  We had our luge tickets to use and enjoyed 5 rides up the chairlift and down the luges.  It was a very fun afternoon.  Our Thai food was delicious but very slow service.  Of course we had to have some more of the tasty gelatto too.

On the day of the 31st we had a 56km family bike ride through the Otago Rail Trails.  You could do a three day ride and do the whole trail but we were only doing a small part.  I enjoyed the ride. It was incredible scenery and was not very hilly.  The kids will  tell you a different story. The hardest part was one stretch that was very windy.We were biking into the wind.  Doing your hardest you could only get up to about 8km an hour.  There were two tunnels here to bike through too. That was a strange experience.  At the end the kids were exhausted. It was reminiscent of climbing Mt Fuji.  There was always someone we had to keep encouraging .  I guess I bike more in Tokyo and was not sore.  It was tough for some of the  others to sit for awhile.  That night we had the New Year’s eve buffet at the Millbrook.  Once again some great food. I was personally glad we had biked off some of these calories.  Everyone was exhausted but we made everyone stay up and head into the clubhouse for the midnight balloon drop. The kids learned some new oldies from  the band.

Sadly we were heading to the end of our trip.We were able to reschedule our Shotover Jet boat ride for 8:00am.

Shotover Jet Boats

We had a trip scheduled on the 28th but due to the pouring rain and flood levels of the river it was cancelled. Luckily we were able to reschedule our Shotover Jet boat experience.

These special boats take you over shallow water. They spin, twist, turn, come really close to the rocky edges and go really fast. So pretty much it is a rollercoaster ride on water. Our boat driver’s name was Chris. He was the youngest current driver. He was really cool. Sarah and I sat in the front next to the driver. Mom, Dad, Emily and Catherine sat behind us. The ride went on for about 25 minutes.  I nearly flew out of my seat twice!! You get soaked, especially when he does 360’s.   These boats have twin engines that take water and shoot it out the back, allowing them to be able to go into water that is as shallow as four inches. They use up to 4 liters of gas  a minute. It was so much fun!! Well that is what we did on New Year’s Day (1/1/11). By the way whatever mom says about the 56 kilometer bike ride don’t believe it.  It was pure torture to me.

We had to head back after that to Christ Church . It was our longest stretch of driving yet (it was about 6 hours).  We made a few scenic stops along the way. It is hard not to appreciate the beauty everywhere you go.Lake Tekapo, views of Mt Cook, sheep, etc..  In Christ Church we made it to the hotel before 6:00pm. We turned on the tv and watched the ball drop in NYC for New Year’s Eve. We had planned to go  to a winery for a  dinner but it was closed for New Year’s.   We found  an Italian restaurant that had a little bit of everything so everyone was happy. We walked around town a little and then went home to pack up for the next morning.

Our flight was at 5:40 so it was an early morning.  We flew back to Auckland and then Narita.  Then it took about 2 1/2 hours to drive home from Narita.  We got home safe and sound with lots of memories from NZ.


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