Windy Wellington

After gathering all of our assorted bags and bundles from the ferry and making our way to our apartment (which is delightfully enormous, allowing us all some much-needed solo space), we decided to eat out for dinner.  Jeremy found the Southern Cross restaurant a few blocks away, and we enjoyed a delicious meal there.  Our apartment is in the Te Aro neighborhood of Wellington, just a block from Cuba Street’s many cafes and restaurants, so we are spoiled for choice.

The Bucket Fountain on Cuba Street, Penelope’s favorite art installation thus far.

Thursday we relaxed into a slow morning at home, doing some laundry, reading, cooking breakfast.  But by lunchtime we were on our way to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand.  It’s a gorgeous building, with an eclectic and interesting collection.  We began with the native bush walk outside, where we spotted (and heard!) our first Tui bird.  Take a listen to the positively astonishing range of sounds it produces:

Next we went to the exhibit on Gallipoli in turns—and a good thing we did, as it was a visceral representation of suffering by Kiwi soldiers in WWI.  The models were enormous—not tiny but instead 2.5 times the size of humans, sculpted with incredible verisimilitude.  Penelope sat outside with each of us while the other toured, happily reading her Kindle.  Her favorite book at the moment is The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarity, and I believe she’s reading it for the third time.  🙂

After we finished the Gallipoli exhibit, we moved on to the floors focused on New Zealand history as well as Maori culture, art, and history.  Te Papa does a wonderful job interweaving art and history, along with interactive videos, games, and experiences.  And they have children’s spaces scattered throughout the museum, where kids can try out costumes and instruments and art. 

The last floors we visited were the art galleries, which were again terrifically organized and filled with interactive elements.  We particularly appreciated the deck of cards at the beginning, called 101 Ways to Look at Art.  Each visitor is invited to take a few to use in the galleries.  We asked the docent if the whole deck was for sale, but alas no.  So we made do with this snapped photo—and will definitely be using these questions again with Penelope when we visit the museums of Italy and France.

Friday we opted for another day of exploring Wellington, and this time our focus was on the great outdoors: the Cable Car and the Botanical Gardens.  Wellington has hundreds of cable cars, but all but one are privately owned.  Those hundreds are more accurately known as funiculars, and these two-person cable cars allow hill-dwelling Wellingtonians to park their car at street level and then ascend or descend hundreds of feet to their house perched on high.  The public cable car, on the other hand, carries about a hundred people at a time, from Lambton Quay to the hilltop above, where you can descend through the Botanic Gardens back to the city below.  And the view from the top is pretty lovely too!

We spent the next two hours slowly walking down through the gardens, with an extended stop at the playground en route.  Also spotted: the gorgeous tree fern, a sunlit hillside filled with hydrangeas, and absolutely, positively the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen.  I would like our future hobbit hole to be surrounded by a glade of these specimens.

That evening we ventured out to the Wellington Night Market, noting once we arrived that to call the alley a “market” somewhat overstated the offerings on hand…but we still enjoyed ourselves.  It was just like the Off the Grid food truck gatherings in the Bay Area, and, as at home, we devoured our dumplings and roti burritos.  The live music was a lovely bonus.

Saturday was girls’ day out: Penelope and I started the day by walking from our apartment over to the waterfront, following the harbor to the Wellington Underground Market.  Every Saturday there’s an arts and crafts market that takes over an underground car park, and it was definitely worth the visit.  Though we were mightily tempted by a gorgeous wire bird feeder, I wasn’t sure we could get it home in one piece.  Penelope spent nearly half an hour at the dollhouse miniatures booth, choosing just the right sweets for her “lolly” jar.  I exercised my patience muscle.  And she did end up with a lovely collection of sweets, in addition to a jar of fruits (most appropriately, she chose the kiwis).

After a lunch made to order from one of the booths at the Underground Market, we continued our walk around the harbor, pausing to snap a selfie and gawk at the divers jumping from the various platforms set up by the city.  A climb, a leap, and a splash into the sea.  Very cool. 

The park we’d originally played to go to seemed to be under construction, so we continued walking to Waitangi Park… where we discovered a small Highlands Festival underway.  Mind you, we’d also passed a Holi / Color Festival that morning, and there were huge Chinese New Year celebrations planned for the next few days.  Wellington is definitely a cultural crossroads—another way in which it reminds me of San Francisco.  We watched some Highland dancing for a bit and then found the nearby playground.  An hour there, and Penelope asked if we could return to Te Papa for part of the afternoon.  Sounded good—so off we went, and Penelope enjoyed playing drums and dress-up with other kids.  Afterwards, we browsed some shops as we leisurely made our way home for dinner with Jeremy.

After dinner, we capped our third day in Wellington with a delectable ice cream treat at Kaffee Eis on Cuba Street: after trying a wide array of flavors, we settled on Biscotti (which tasted like Biscoff cookies), Pistachio, Cinnamon, and Bon Bon Rocher (chocolate hazelnut).  All delicious!

Farewell to the South Island

Wednesday morning dawned overcast and rainy, with hints of smoke in the air.  Our last night in Motueka we went down to the beach to do some stargazing, since it was a new moon night.  Amazing views of upside-down Orion and even the Milky Way… but we also noticed a significant orange glow emanating across the bay from us.  It turned out to be a substantial fire in the Tasman region, which continued overnight. 

After a final check of our Top 10 Motueka cabin, we loaded the car and headed to Picton… with a brief stop in Nelson to buy a duffel bag.  I have no idea how we’ve possibly acquired enough extras to need another piece of luggage, but with our ferry departure looming, it seemed better to take the more expedient route of acquiescing to reality.  We can re-shuffle in Wellington!

Three hours later, we arrived, fueled the car, pulled everything out, and walked over to the ferry terminal.  After a brief wait in the terminal, we headed on board.

The Interislander Ferry has simply enormous ships, with cafes and lounges and two movie theaters, and windows everywhere.  Lovely views emerged as we got underway.  Penelope was initially enthralled, but soon the call of the iPad was too strong to resist. 

After an hour or so of games (Monument Valley is her current favorite), we decided to check out the views on the top of the ship, followed by some time in the play area on Deck 2. 

I spent some of the time on board reading and planning for our six days in Wellington, and some of the time rewatching Lord of the Rings.  🙂

As we bid adieu to South Island, I’ll take this final chance to share some random family photos and Kiwiana from our past weeks here…

Penelope discovers the joys of the top bunk.
The wind on the South Island is no joke.
A most excellent suit of armor in a Queenstown art gallery.
Frodo and the Ring, made from 20,000+ jelly beans.
Penelope said, “This milk is so fancy! Take a picture, Mama!”
Penelope and the enormous Takahe statue. Not pictured: its fluffy white butt, which Penelope found most amusing.
Awesome hiking t-shirt spotted at the Nelson Market.
We’re not actually sure this is one of the famed Pōhutukawa trees, but… seemed pretty close?
Is this directive meant to be humorous?
What sometimes happens when you ask Jeremy and Penelope to smile for a picture.
Gorgeous delicate blossoms spotted on a trailside plant.
Yes, I have the sense of humor of an adolescent. But this sign cracked me up.
Me, watching Penelope play in the tilted rooms at Puzzling World.
Penelope saved a lovely green beetle which had ended up on its back in the center of the trail. She placed it carefully right side up in her hand, then safely on the side of the trail.
And a final example of the majestic New Zealand wildlife we’ve seen throughout our travels on the South Island.

Next post from Wellington. Looking forward to settling into our AirBnB for the longest stay of our New Zealand trip: a positively luxurious six nights.

To the Market, to the Beach, to the Waterfalls

Shall I start by confessing that I arranged our entire South Island itinerary so that we could be in Nelson for the Saturday market?  It’s true.  I LOVE a good market, and my folks said this was one of the best they’ve been to, on several continents.  How could I miss it? 

So Friday morning found us driving the four hours from Kaikoura to Nelson, with a car picnic lunch en route.  Nelson is one of the larger cities on the South Island, so we spent some time that afternoon laying in provisions for our final days.  Also on deck: some schoolwork for Penelope and a special treat: the first twenty minutes or so of The Hobbit movie.  Penelope loved it, especially the dwarf singing… but didn’t want to watch further to see any of the scary parts (and we agreed, given her past scary-movie-to-nightmare ratio).  Dinner at home and some playground time rounded out the day.

Saturday morning I headed to the Nelson market for an hour or so of solo browsing before Jeremy and Penelope joined me.  As predicted, the market was a delightful mélange of produce, crafts, art, clothes, jewelry, and food trucks.  I found a gorgeous charcuterie board made of Rewarewa, also known as the New Zealand honeysuckle, with lovely branch handles. 

Jeremy suggested he might prefer the cleaner lines of the one on the right, but I remained steadfast in my preference for the center one.  And thus I have come one step closer to fulfilling my dream of turning our house into a hobbit hole, decorated with items Bilbo and Frodo might also admire.

And I also picked up these wonderful New Zealand ha’pennies, polished and transformed into earrings. 

After lunch, we headed to the Nelson Provincial Museum, which contains both a permanent exhibition on the history of this city and region, and traveling exhibits.  So we also enjoyed an exploration of the Permian period, complete with enormous animatronic pre-dinosaurs.  It was quite something!

Next we strolled over to the Suter Art Gallery, a small but wonderful art museum.  In the very back gallery room, they had a room filled with art from local New Zealand artists, all available for purchase.  Such a wonderful idea—I’d love it if every museum had this practice!  Jeremy and I saw something similar a few years ago when we were in Edinburgh.  And on this trip, the piece we liked best was available, so purchase it we did.  Of course now we have to schlep the painting around New Zealand for the next few weeks, but we’ll manage.  If these are my complaints, it’s a good life.  😉

We had reservations for dinner at Nahm, a Thai restaurant right on the coast, to celebrate my birthday… as on my actual birthday we will be hiking in a restaurant-free area of Abel Tasman National Park.  We’ve been tremendously lucky with all of our restaurant choices so far—and Nahm was no exception.  Outstanding Thai food, eaten on a beautiful balcony right on the sheltered bay of Nelson’s seashore.  As we waited for our food, we saw a terrific variety of boats sail by.  And Jeremy snapped this pic of me.  🙂

After dinner, we took a scenic drive around Nelson and then decided to hike up to the Centre of New Zealand.  While it’s apparently not the *actual* center of NZ, it’s still a relatively close approximation atop a hill with wonderful 360-degree views.  Good enough!

Sunday we packed up once again and headed for Motueka, our last stop on the South Island.  Though it’s a small town, Motueka is the gateway for the Abel Tasman National Park, so it has more stores, etc than it might otherwise.  We’re here for three nights, and have been assigned a cabin directly across from the pool and playground.  So on the first day we spent our afternoon at the pool, relaxing and also prepping for our time in Wellington later this week.  Dinner at home, along with some laundry and schoolwork.  And after dinner, a walk along the beach to see an old wrecked ship. Bonus knowledge acquired: wet sand can actually and quite suddenly be revealed to be black quicksand mud! Guess who learned that lesson the hard way? Picture of me sputtering expletives (and covered in mud up to my shoe-clad ankles) not included.

On Monday though, we were up early, and after a quick breakfast/birthday celebration for yours truly, drove to nearby Kaiteriteri Beach to board our water taxi.  We had booked a double beach cruise with local company Nelson’s, and we sailed from Kaiteriteri Beach up to Medlands Bay, while the skipper filled us in on sights along the shoreline.  My favorite was the aptly named Split Apple Rock.

We disembarked at Medlands Bay, then hiked over to Bark Bay, where we settled in for some beach time.

See how happy and relaxed we looked?  Alas, this feeling was soon to fade as Jeremy and I began to remember that we are decidedly and definitively not beach people.  Do you know what there is at the beach?  SAND.  SO MUCH SAND.  And hot, hot sun.  Also a feature of this particular beach: sand fleas.  So after we realized that our sandy spot was infested, we packed up and did some hiking along the Abel Tasman track.  Much better.  Penelope disagreed, but was pacified when we reminded her that we’d be at another beach soon.

And about an hour later, we were picked up by our boat and ferried down to Anchorage Bay, where we spent another few hours split between hiking and beach time.  You’ll be relieved to know that both Jeremy and I had the foresight to bring our Kindles.   And that Penelope very much enjoyed playing with other, more beach-amenable families on the shoreline.  🙂  But the wildlife (wekas and swamphens and feral pigs, oh my) was terrific and the views were amazing.  Definitely a beautiful place!

After a long day of adventures, we boarded the boat once more, bound for Kaiteriteri Beach, and then home to our campground in Motueka.  Penelope spent the evening in the pool and on the playground, this time with a French girl her age.  Which I feel should count as her schoolwork for the day.  Well, that and about an hour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast movie, the French language version. 

Tuesday we had a more relaxed morning at home, but we hit the road around eleven for the next set of Abel Tasman adventures.  This time we were headed for a set of hikes over Tanaka Hill: the Grove and Wainui Falls, both recommended in NZ Frenzy, a guidebook of New Zealand hikes—(and by my folks, who said we shouldn’t miss these two short walks).  While I could have given the drive a pass, due to its twists and turns (seeing a pattern here, dearest reader?), the hikes were indeed quite terrific. 

The Grove feels like a small slice of Cambodia, with huge boulders and vines and trees growing in and around the rocks.  It’s a lovely, mostly flat walk around the rocks, until you get to a giant bit of rock that’s been cut in two by time.  Walking through, you arrive at a lovely overlook of all the meadows below… and then all the way out to sea.  Quite a view!

We drove another twenty minutes of twists and turns, this time along the radiantly blue sea, and we arrived at the turnoff for the Wainui Falls Track.  This hike is about an hour and half round trip, at least at our meandering pace, and a lovely hike indeed.  Lots of palm trees, ferns, and birdsong.  The trail follows the Wainui River, sometimes close by, sometimes far above, to the highest falls in the Golden Bay region. 

We crossed several bridges, one a very high (and therefore somewhat unnerving) swing bridge with success, finally arriving at the Falls.  At 20 metres high, the Wainui Falls were indeed impressive—and I particularly appreciated the lovely rainbow spray as they entered the deep pool below.  Gorgeous.

Jeremy elected to drive home (I’d driven the outbound trip), saying he’d prefer me to read and not look at the road.  Doesn’t he know it’s my anxiety that keeps us on the road??  Apparently not.  But Penelope and I dutifully ensconced ourselves in our books and Jeremy got us safely back to Motueka.

Once home we started the process of reassembling all of our stuff.  Wednesday morning we’ll drop off our rental car and take the ferry from Picton to Wellington.  Since we’re staying in Wellington for six nights, we won’t need a car on the North Island right away.  But that means that we need to smoosh everything back into our bags so the luggage can be checked on the ferry.  An hour into packing, and I have my doubts.  Perhaps we will be stopping en route to Picton to buy a duffel bag?  Time will tell…

Hikes and Puzzles and Dolphins, oh my!

Monday we were northward-bound.  After an early lunch in Te Anau, I successfully drove us from to Arrowtown, just north of Queenstown.  The astute reader will notice we seem to be backtracking, and there is quite a bit of that here in New Zealand—there just aren’t that many roads!  Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town, and many of the little mining cottages have been preserved and turned into shops.  A fun place to browse for an hour; Penelope found her much anticipated tiny bottle of Paua shells and I purchased a pair of earrings (always one of my favorite souvenirs!). 

We switched drivers in Arrowtown and soon discovered that the drive from Arrowtown to Wanaka involved crossing what seemed like quite a mountain.  The views were tremendous, as you can see.  But you’ll have to imagine me squeaking in terror as we approached hairpin turn after hairpin turn—while Penelope was simultaneously saying “Go faster, Daddy!” and laughing with delight.

We arrived in Wanaka in late afternoon, and I have to agree with our guidebooks that the town feels exactly like Queenstown’s little sister.  Smaller, but still the ski-town vibe, filled with backpackers and tourists.  We settled in at our cabin, which is no longer a Top10 property and has subsequently been renamed Mt Aspiring Holiday Park.  But still a fine place for two nights’ stay.  Penelope was particularly pleased to hear that this park has a pool, especially since it will be in the 80s during our visit.   Dinner that night was at the Red Star Burger Bar and was so tasty we’re considering returning for round two…   The evening ended with pool and playground time, and some of the penultimate chapters of The Hobbit.

Although my folks (who have been to New Zealand three times, each trip lasting several months) recommended the Rob Roy track to us as “one of the best day hikes” they’ve ever been on—which is really saying something—we decided it was too ambitious for certain members of our family….  So on Tuesday morning we opted for two shorter hikes instead: the Mt Iron track and the Waterfall Creek Trail.  The first had terrific views of the whole valley and Lake Wanaka, while the second headed around the lake and allowed us to see That Wanaka Tree.  Yes, it’s really called that.  And #thatwanakatree on Instagram has over 37K posts (so far). 

Home to our cabin for lunch, then we headed to Puzzling World for the afternoon.  I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see attraction, but it was certainly a fun way to spend a few hours.  We liked the inside optical Illusion Rooms best, especially the Tilted House rooms and the Roman Latrine entrance to the bathrooms.  The Great Maze outside was tough, though, and we bailed via an emergency exit after about half an hour.  Just before we left, we visited the gift shop—where Penelope was tickled to realize that the attraction’s initials were her own as well.

We headed back to Red Star Burger Bar for dinner, and then an early evening at home—schoolwork and blogging and a family game of Uno before bedtime. 

Wednesday was our longest day of driving of the entire NZ trip—from Wanaka to Kaikoura—and we were on the road for more than nine hours.  Fortunately, we had lots of beautiful country to see on the way.  We also knew just where to stop for our breaks: the fabulous playground (with ziplines big enough for parents!) next to the grocery store in Lake Tekapo, the enormous i-Site and gift store in Geraldine, and an amazing Indian dinner at Maharaja, an Indian restaurant in Christchurch.  And as a bonus, I finished reading aloud The Hobbit to Penelope (and Jeremy) as the long driving day came to an end.  We arrived at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Kaikoura around 8:30pm, and Penelope managed to squeeze in some playtime at the jumping pillow before bedtime rolled around.

Thursday morning we got up early for our Dolphin Encounter cruise.  Kaikoura is famous for its oceanic wildlife, from whales to dolphins to seabirds.  The dusky dolphins are among the inhabitants of this gorgeous area, and they are famous for their friendly, inquisitive, and acrobatic nature.  There’s just one company here that takes folks out to swim with the dolphins, and it’s a wetsuit, snorkeling kind of adventure.  The dolphins are not fed or enticed to come over toward the boat and the swimmers, but they generally do—and in the process, put on an amazing performance.  Needless to say, we were pretty excited for the morning!

Penelope and I opted for the role of spectators aboard the vessel; Jeremy, less keen to sail, decided to stay home.  After a brief wait while the swimmers donned their wetsuits and heard safety instructions, we were all bussed over to the South Bay, about ten minutes away from the tiny downtown.  We boarded our boat: three spectators and sixteen swimmers along with one skipper and two guides. We sailed for about 25 minutes until we spotted our first pod of dolphins—they tend to roam in pods of a hundred to nearly a thousand.  We had a “smaller” group of a hundred or so, and their constant activity made for a non-stop show for the next two hours.  While the swimmers came in and out of the water, surrounded by the curious dolphins, one of the guides showed us the best place to stand.  And so Penelope and I spent the rest of the voyage at the bow of the boat, where the dolphins liked to “surf” the pressure waves when the boat was moving… and play when we were floating along.

I took dozens of photos and videos, but I also managed to put the camera away from time to time, just to enjoy the spectacle unfolding before us.  In addition to the dusky dolphins, we saw common dolphins racing by, a few New Zealand fur seals swimming, and several albatross bobbing along on the surface of the sea.

But one short video is definitely worth sharing… I actually caught one of the many dolphin somersaults! 

Later that afternoon Penelope and Jeremy spent some time at the holiday park pool while I explored Kaikoura’s shops solo.  Always willing to do my part for the local economy.  😉

After dinner at home, we capped the day with a walk down near the peninsula trail, where we hopped off the trail and wandered out on the rocks of low tide.  A bit of tidepooling, but mostly just appreciating the amazing sunset unfolding before us.

Just another wonderful day in New Zealand.

Te Anau and Milford Sound

We arrived Friday afternoon in Te Anau, and Penelope immediately set off for the holiday park playground.  We are staying in holiday parks on this first leg of my sabbatical for just this reason—it’s still summer school holidays here in NZ, and there are lots of kids around for Penelope to play with at each of our stops.  She spent the next few hours running around with a small pack of Kiwi and French kids, while we settled in to our new cabin. 

I’m in charge of all of the packing and unpacking, which means I have transformed into the family Google.  Everyone asks me when they need to find something.  But I actually don’t mind, because it satisfies my type-A personality to know where everything is.  🙂 Jeremy is in charge of the cooking and washing up, and last night’s dinner was another delicious dish: meatballs in Bolognese sauce.  I could get used to this division of labor!

Saturday morning we slept late, read for a bit, then headed into Te Anau to see the Department of Conservation center and its displays about Fiordland and walk through the tiny downtown of Te Anau.  Today was an “administrative day,” a term my folks coined for a day off from sightseeing to relax, catch up on tasks, and plan for the week ahead.  They’ve been traveling the world since they retired ten and a half years ago, so they know a thing or two about maintaining sanity on long trips.  We’ve built in at least one off-day a week during our time in New Zealand, and I’m so glad.

After lunch at home, we had an eagerly-anticipated treat: the great New Zealand candy sampler buffet! 

As we traveled over the past week, we’ve picked up various unusual candies: Whittaker Nelson Pear & Manuka Honey chocolate, the mysteriously-named Pink Smokers, and lots more.  We set them aside until today, when we laid all of them out and had a taste of each in turn.  Many were enjoyable, but our favorites were the dime-store candies: Beacon Strawberry Fizzers, a kind of taffy, and the Swizzers Doubles Lolly, which I actually remember first having sampled in England when I was a teenager.

After emerging from our sugar coma, we each indulged in some favorite pastimes: Jeremy spent some time coding, Penelope found new friends at the holiday park playground, and I read the New Zealand poets issue of Poetry magazine, as recommended to me by Castilleja’s fabulous librarian.

We rounded out the day by heading to the small but gorgeously appointed Te Anau cinema to see a short documentary movie about Fiordland National Park.  A lovely way to anticipate some of Sunday’s adventures.

Oh!  And I also have a new vocabulary acquisition: TRUNDLER.  Pronounced “trundlah” here in NZ. A useful sort of word.

Sunday we woke early and hit the road right away—we had a 10:30am cruise to catch, and the road there was said to take at least two hours without stops.  The principle reason to stay in Te Anau for most folks is its relative proximity to Milford Sound, one of the beautiful fiords of Fiordland National Park.  You can travel there by helicopter, by foot on the Milford Track, or by the Milford Road, finished in 1954.  We elected to take the last option and thoroughly enjoyed the drive.  The land around the road goes through quite remarkable changes—from pastureland near Te Anau to forest and then to rainforest, all within and around the mountains of the Southern Alps.

Our plan was to drive straight to the Sound, take our mid-morning cruise, and then make our way leisurely back along the same road, stopping in the afternoon at the various short hikes and sights.  We saw very little traffic on the way to the Sound, which was lovely, and the vistas were spectacular.  We arrived with plenty of time to spare and in short order boarded the Milford Mariner, operated by Real Journeys.  After considering all of the options, we chose the Nature Cruise, aboard which our commentary would be provided by a naturalist. 

Milford Sound was stunning.  We were so lucky with the weather—it’d been raining all night the night before, so dozens and dozens of waterfalls were running, but as you can see from the photos, we had sunny blue skies dotted with clouds. 

We saw two pods of bottlenose dolphins swim by, three different groups of New Zealand fur seals basking on rocks, and countless birds wheeling in the sky.  But Penelope’s favorite part was probably when the skipper steered us directly under one of the larger waterfalls.  I have to agree… that part was pretty awesome.  🙂

It didn’t start raining again until mid-way through our drive back to Te Anau—and even then we had only intermittent showers.  We were able to make stops and short hikes at the bridge over the Tutoko River, the Chasm, and Mirror Lakes—all landmarks along the Milford Road. 

When we arrived back at the holiday park, we had a few hours of relaxing before our dinner reservation at the Fat Duck in town (where Jeremy was to devour his first bowl of New Zealand green-lipped mussels).

Penelope was delighted to discover that the little boy she’d seen on our boat that morning was also staying at our holiday park, and they spent the rest of the early evening running around, coloring, and enacting “mysterious ninja battles”—even resuming for an extra hour after our dinner in town.  It’s light so late into the evening that we have adopted a somewhat laxer approach to bedtime, and Penelope is often up until 9:30pm.  Fortunately, our mornings are typically less harried than the usual school day at home, and she can sleep in a bit. 

Monday morning we packed up and Penelope bid a somewhat teary farewell to her new friend Francesco, whose family is from Milan (though they now live in Hong Kong).  She is gathering quite a range of global friends along the trip!

On to Queenstown

Monday morning we headed south on the motorway, bound for Queenstown. We stopped at an overlook of unbelievably-blue Lake Pukaki for a picnic lunch and a bit of running around, then continued south. I’m proud to report that I drove for about two hours of the trip and without a single incident… though Jeremy did remark from time to time on my inability to stay off of the left shoulder. I contended that the shoulder is safer than the middle of the road, where the other cars are whizzing by.

We settled into the Queenstown Lakeview holiday park, then set out to explore the CBD (central business district) and grab some dinner. After a delicious meal at Flame, we meandered around town for a bit, window shopping and picking up planning brochures at the tourist information centre. The evening ended with time split between the playground and the laundry room.

Since we aren’t planning to bungee jump or other insanity, the lure of Queenstown for us is mostly its gorgeous views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu and its proximity to Glenorchy and the Routeburn Track.

Tuesday we decided to hike around part of the lake, along the path in Queenstown Gardens. Gorgeous weather was with us all day, despite the prediction of rain in the forecast.

At the beginning of the Gardens path, the local Rotary Club had set up a small stand selling duck food (dried peas and seeds). Penelope was quite charmed by the way the ducklings ate right out of her hand.

After lunch in town, Penelope and I headed for the Skyline Gondola. Jeremy, alas, is not a fan of heights, so he opted for an afternoon at the holiday park instead. We purchased our tickets and headed for the top.

After checking out the views and reading about the history of the Skyline Gondola, we decided it was now or never. Helmets on, we boarded the chairlift for the next level: the Luge track.

After a brief training on how to steer and, more importantly, how to brake, we were off.  And it was FABULOUS!   Four thumbs up.  Amazing views, speedy turns… and Penelope screamed with joy all the way down.

We went on the track three times and could have gone three more.  Before leaving the top of the mountain, we paused to watch a bungee jump, which Penelope said looked like “the most fun ever.”  I quickly assured her that you have to be 18 to jump (I’m not actually sure this is a NZ law, but I think it should be our family policy).  We rode the gondola back down, taking in the spectacular views, and headed home to the holiday park.  

Wednesday the promised rain finally fell, so we spent the day browsing the Queenstown shops, doing another load of laundry, and heading to the local cinema to see Mary Poppins Returns.  In the early evening, we were surprised by a sudden hailstorm and later found out that several trees had come down, blocking a main road in town.  These NZ summer storms are no joke!  But we were delighted to see the light dusting of snow on the mountains out of our window.

Thursday morning we got up bright and early to head out for our first big hike of the trip, the first part of the Routeburn Track.  The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and hikers who do the whole trek usually take three or four days.  For thru-hikers, there are several “huts” along the way: gorgeously maintained accommodations with flush toilets and gas ranges, bunkbeds and campsites.

We spent more time than expected getting there, as part of the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy was closed due to tree and power line damage from the storm the day before.  But soon enough we were on our way again, and we ate our picnic lunch in the carpark before setting out.

We noted on the sign that our destination, the first Hut on the Track, was 1.5 hours away. Since we would head back on the same path, it would be a lovely 3 hour walk in the woods.  I should perhaps add here that the sign failed to mention that the Flats Hut was 7.5km away.  So off we went, happily oblivious to the length of the almost 10 mile hike we’d just begun.

And what a hike it was!  Within the first half an hour, we’d spotted Eyvind Earle trees (Jeremy), a fairy grotto (Rebecca), and enormous mushrooms (Penelope).

But, alas, about an hour into the hike, Penelope had completely exhausted her stores of enthusiasm, patience, and fortitude.  (I hope, gentle Reader, you appreciate my use of euphemisms here.  Travel with a seven year old is not always sunshine and rainbows.)  Jeremy, realizing that my long-awaited hike through Lothlorien was in jeopardy, generously volunteered to return with Penelope to the carpark and allow me to carry on solo.

And so on I climbed, through fern-filled forests and sunlit glades, over thundering cataracts, and finally onto a wide alluvial plain and the long-awaited Routeburn Flats Hut.

It was, quite simply, the best day hike I’ve ever been on.  I can see why so many scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed here—it really is a magical place…. Hopefully by the time my next sabbatical rolls around, Penelope will be ready to do the full three-day tramp. 🙂  I can’t wait to come back, though my knees were an eensy bit sore that evening.  My FitBit reported that I climbed the equivalent of 122 staircases, so I can see why.

On our drive back to Glenorchy, we stopped to snap a pic of this most quintessential Kiwi view.  Mountains, lake, sheep. 

And then from Glenorchy to Queenstown, all along Lake Wakatipu, with stops along the way to enjoy the stunning views—and to capture a few family selfies.

Friday morning we packed up once again and drove out to Te Anau. The sun is shining and we have an eagerly-anticipated cruise on Milford Sound ahead of us!

First Days in New Zealand

Our whirlwind of packing and planning completed at last, we headed to SFO on January 15th for our evening flight. Excitement was definitely in the air as we boarded the plane bound for Fiji!

After our layover in Fiji, we landed in Christchurch on January 17th, beginning our six weeks of travels in the Antipodes. Penelope paused to pose with one of the painted poles at the Christchurch airport, and then we headed to our hotel and a delicious steakhouse dinner at Bloody Mary’s. That evening she told everyone we encountered (from the customs agent to to the waitress), “You have a New Zealand accent!” You’ll have to imagine her tones of surprise with each encounter. 🙂

Friday morning we started the day with brunch at a local cafe (where Penelope discovered bacon is a term used rather loosely in New Zealand), then headed to the Botanic Garden. A wonderful reminder that we’re in the middle of summer here! The hydrangeas were especially beautiful….

Afterwards we headed to the Margaret Mahy Park, which is the largest children’s playground south of the equator. Penelope gives it two thumbs up! We ended the day with a round of mini-golf and a delicious dinner at Thai Kitchen.

Saturday morning we repacked our bags and went to pick up our car, eager to head out of town to see more of New Zealand. As we left the garage on the left side of the street, Jeremy drove with unaccustomed caution (for which I was QUITE grateful). Before leaving the city, however, we stopped at the local grocery store to lay in supplies for our travels. We’ll mostly be staying in holiday parks and doing our own cooking, so we needed to stock up! And to be honest, browsing grocery stores is one of my absolute favorite things to do when traveling. There are so many kind of condiments here that should be available at home.

My new favorite road trip snack:

En route, Penelope read the book we bought for her that afternoon…

…all 489 pages of it. Fortunately, one of Penelope’s new travel toys is her very own Kindle. Otherwise we’d be in real trouble…

After a little over three hours of driving through lovely cow- and sheep-spotted countryside, we arrived at Lake Tekapo. It was absolutely pouring rain on the drive in, but just after dinner Penelope spotted a rainbow out our cabin window, and sure enough the sun had come out and the turquoise lake water was shimmering. Absolutely lovely!

Sunday morning we explored Lake Tekapo and environs, visiting the Church of the Good Shepherd and heading to the top of Mount John to see the views. A beautiful day, but very windy!

So in the afternoon we decided to spend a few hours at the Tekapo Hot Springs. Then we stayed up way past Penelope’s bedtime to see the night sky, since Lake Tekapo is an International Dark Sky Reserve. Alas, the almost-full moon and cloudy sky obscured most of the stars, but it was still a gorgeous view.

On Monday morning we bid a fond farewell to our first holiday park cabin– especially our “outdoor” toilet–and hit the road again, this time heading south to Queenstown. Stay tuned to see whether or not we are brave enough to ride the Skyline Luge!!