Saturday, 26 March 2016

Meghan On Amelie-Last of NZ Land Adventures

This blog will be about the past two months (February and March) so it will be about the rest of our land adventures in New Zealand.  Last I wrote, we were in Queenstown departing the next day for our hike on the 32 km Routeburn Track (one of the Great Walks of New Zealand).  In this blog, I will tell you all about the rest of our South Island adventures, from Queenstown all the way up to Nelson, and our North Island adventures which eventually took us back up here to Auckland.

Routeburn Track and Milford Sound
On the first of February, we left our campground early in the morning, said, "See you later!," to Queenstown and took the bus into the Southern Alps!

We decided to do the track in four days so we stayed 3 nights in cabins.  The first day, we were very lucky and we had the sunniest day imaginable.  The second was a bit cloudy.  The third day, we got sun again so we were able to see the views we had missed the day before.  The last day, it was the only day that really rained but that was okay because we only had to walk an hour anyways.  Considering the fact that that area has rain more than half of the days of the year, we were pretty lucky!

We only did one Great Walk so I can't compare the Routeburn Track to any other tracks but I must say, as far as the hikes I've done and the views I've seen: I think this has got to be my favourite hike I've ever done!   The forests, the mountains, the lakes, the wildlife: it surpasses anything I've ever seen!   We got amazing views of valleys, we got to swim in fresh (but quite cold) mountain lakes, and we got to see rare wildlife such as the kea, New Zealand's alpine parrot.

The kea is endemic to only the South Island of New Zealand and is the only alpine parrot in the world!  It is however, despite the fact it lives in the mountains, very similar to regular parrots.  They are very colourful, have a very loud and distinguishing cry, and are very mischievous and clever!

Another great thing I treasure about our time on the Routeburn Track is the fact that we could drink the stream water (only the moving water streams not the still, lake water though).  Despite everything I've ever done, I have never been able to drink water straight out of a stream!  It just made it feel like we were even farther away from civilization and somehow, that felt good.  It just goes to prove that going natural is the best way to go because it was the best tasting water I have ever drank!

On the fourth day, after we finished the one hour walk from Howden Hut, we took a bus up to the famous Milford Sound (FYI: they call it a sound but it's actually a fiord).  Despite the rainy weather, the Milford Sound was pretty cool.  We took a boat cruise on it so we got to get up close to lots of waterfalls, sea lion colonies, and see the tall, grassy cliffs towering over the deep water inlet (which is what makes it a fiord).

Queenstown: Adventure Capital of the World
We arrived back in busy, bustling Queenstown on the fourth of February late in the evening but the next day, we decided to take advantage of what the adventure capital of the world had to offer us!  First, we drove on down to the Shotover Jet headquarters.  Did you know that jet boating was invented in New Zealand?  Did you also know that the Prince William and Kate Middleton also rode the Shotover Jet?  Anyways, the jet boat takes you on a thrilling and yet, extraordinarily scenic ride through the canyon.  It takes you up to 85 km/h and, although it does have an engine which it uses, what makes it go so fast is the water that is driven in and driven out the back again at great force!

Photo courtesy of SHTJ

Photo courtesy of SHJT

Photo courtesy of SHJT
Our second adventure activity was the Skyline gondola ride up the hill.  At the top, the view is a million dollar picture!  The Remarkables, mountains that tower over Queenstown, set the backdrop with the ravishing, blue lake and the tiny city!

 The view was not the adventure part of the Skyline though, it was the luge rides!

After we completed those two "thrills" in adventure capital of the world, we decided to leave the other adventures for other places so we started heading north again.  We came briefly back to Queenstown for a day or two just to drop off my dad at the airport since he was flying back to Auckland to go work on the boat for a few week and then to fly back to Calgary to sort a few things out.  He later joined us back on the boat in Auckland on our return.

                                                                                       Paradise and the Glaciers
Oh no! Its Hotel California all over again!
After the three of us left Queenstown, we headed to a place called Paradise.  I'm not even sure if I could even call it a town since it was merely a gravel road that lead to many acres of farmland.  We did get a chance to see the setting of a few "Lord of the Rings" scenes.  The first one was the place where Saruman's troop of orcs were working on building an army for Sauron (aka: The Eye), that place being called Isengard.  Before you ask, no, Saruman's tower was not there so either it was a movable set or the whole thing was made on a computer.  It does make me laugh a little that they chose that, out of all places in New Zealand, to have the forming of the gruesome, orc-like monsters filmed in a spot called Paradise!

The second setting was the place where Arwen the elf, who is carrying dying Frodo whom she is trying to get to Rivendell, is on her horse running away from the Black Riders (aka: Nazgul).  In this scene, the Nazgul are running on sand after Arwen who summons a huge wave which takes down all the Nazgul.

Look familiar?

While in Paradise, we stopped by a horse pasture which had a few horses by the fence and according to our "Lord of the Rings" locations guidebook these horses may have been in that scene where Arwen and Frodo flee the Nazgul!

After Paradise, we started heading north still and after a few days, we reached the two famous glaciers.  The first one was called Fox Glacier and the second, Franz Josef Glacier.  What I find the most peculiar about these glaciers is the fact that a second before you see them, you are walking through a dense, moss covered, almost tropical forest!  Only in New Zealand do you get these opposite landscapes both within one square-kilometre of each other!

We didn't actually get this close to the glaciers, we zoomed in on the camera (distance you can get from
glaciers depends on the weather)

A very scenic walk to Fox Glacier
While in the town of Franz Josef Glacier, we got to visit its wildlife centre.  In there, we got to see the Rowi kiwi bird, New Zealand's rarest kiwi bird!  I even got to take a tour downstairs to see the nurturing centre.  Down there, I got to see the little baby kiwis, the youngest who had only hatched 5 days before.  Did you know that kiwi birds already have their feathers and can walk just after day one?  Did you also know that they compare a mother kiwi laying her very large egg to a human mother giving birth to a six year old child?!?  So yes, kiwis are abnormally large when they are born but that is just because they are fully grown by age one.  Also, kiwis live to be very old: approximately up to 60 years old (for a Rowi kiwi).  Although there are only a few hundred of the Rowi kiwi birds left, thanks to programs like this, the numbers are increasing significantly!  If you ever stop in Franz Josef Glacier town, I highly recommend the wildlife centre, it has many interesting things to learn about, including the Rowi kiwi bird.
A baby Rowi in its incubator!

Also, if an $800 helicopter ride to walk on top of the glacier (offered at both Fox and Franz Josef) is in your budget, I highly recommend it because by the pictures, it looks absolutely breath taking!  You wouldn't believe how small the people look compared to the glacier and yet, from where we saw the glacier, it didn't look all that huge.

The Wild West Coast
After the glaciers, we were on the west coast of the South Island.  At first, I've got to admit, my impression of it was not very good.  If you are tired of hearing me say "beautiful", "awesome", or "amazing", then be sure to read this part because this will not make you wish to be here!

1- The black flies: I have never wanted to massacre anything until I met the black flies of the west coast!  Captain Cook (the first European man to set foot in New Zealand and colonize) said that the bites are not possible to refrain from scratching and eventually end up in ulcers which look like smallpox!  If you took a look at our feet, I think you would agree!  The worst part is that we couldn't find any bug spray that would keep them away, only spray for mosquitoes (which, ironically, there were none of).

2- The rain: As well as attracting the black flies, the rain did give us a few other challenges as well.  One night, we had set up a tarp between the van and the tent which then, in the night, collapsed because of the wind.  Because of this, all the water was channeled down to the doorway of the tent, ending up inside!  The worst part was that the doorway is usually the driest spot because it is covered by a shelter but, of course, that shelter had collapsed too so the driest spot turned quickly into the wettest spot. I tried to move all the bags in one little corner near me.  It was really dark so I don't know what it looked like but I imagine it looked like a little island floating in the middle of the tent! In the morning, it was actually worse than I had thought it had been the whole night.  I really don't think there was one item in the tent that was not at least a bit wet, including the really thick sleeping bags, which, FYI, weighed about 5 pounds when they were soaked!  Also, I'm sure I counted my mom bail out at least 30 bowls of water out of the tent!  We looked at the weather forecast and realized it was the same weather for at least the next 48 hours and it was all across New Zealand as well.  Because of this, we decided to take cover for a few days.  We drove to a nearby town called Greymouth where we stayed at a holiday park (a kind of campground that is in the town/city) in a kind of motel-like room/cabin.  We basically just stayed inside for those two days as we gazed out the window at the rain being swept sideways by the 60 knot winds appreciating the feeling of not even getting a bit wet!
Motto of the day! XD

After we had finished drying our six loads of wet everything, had had some nice, hot showers, and two great nights of sleep, we brushed ourselves off and carried on with our journey.  This time, we carried on with a brighter impression of the west coast and realized that it could be wild in bad but also good ways!

For example, we visited the spectacular pancake rocks.  These rocks are super flat rocks stacked one on top of each other making them look like stacks of pancakes!

We also got to camp near the start of one of the Great Walks (the 82 km Heaphy Track) which was right on the Tasman Sea yet had such dense, wild forests everywhere!  If you cover up (or find some magical black fly repellent spray), the west coast is not to be skipped!

Nelson Lakes and Nelson
On the way up to the city of Nelson, we did a quick stop at a little campground on the Nelson Lakes.  Another one of those unexpected surprises!  We ended up having a lot of fun spending an hour kayaking on this serene lake with the mountain backdrop!

Me: "Are you ready?"
Matthew: "Yes!"
Me: "Are you sure?"
Matthew: "Yes!"
Matthew: "Actually, you know what, the water looks too
cold, you go instead!"
Me: *unsuccessfully tries to pull him in too*
The next day, we drove to Nelson to celebrate someone's birthday.  That someone happened to be me and I was delighted to spend my first ever birthday in summer in the charming city of Nelson!

I honestly think that if I were to live anywhere in New Zealand, I would live in Nelson.  It is still a small city so it is not so upbeat that it gets overwhelming, yet it still is hip and happening!  It is also very artsy and full of creativity.  We visited the wondrous Bead Gallery where they have every kind of bead of every colour of every material!  Some describe it as like being in Aladdin's cave!

We also visited the mind-blowing WOW museum (World of Wearable Arts) which is basically what is sounds like: a display of art that is wearable (some just barely wearable!).  Although I don't formally take art class in school, I think I just got the best art lesson I would ever want in those few hours at the museum!  Here are a few of my favourite "wearable masterpieces".

Abel Tasman National Park and Cape Farewell
Just a few hours away from Nelson is the gorgeous, gorgeous Abel Tasman National Park.  Just a one sentence history lesson for you: Abel Tasman (Dutch sailor) was the first European to sail by New Zealand but he never landed.  Anyways, he was very fortunate to have this national park to be named after him because I think it has to be on my "Top 5 List" of New Zealand!  There is also a Great Walk here, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, which many emphasize is the most beautiful of the Great Walks.  We got to do part of the track and it was pretty spectacular!  We also got to explore the beach right beyond our campground which was a field of starfish at low tide!

After Abel Tasman, we journeyed a little bit further to Cape Farewell and the Farewell Spit.  The Farewell Spit is the long, narrow spit of sand that extends out from the northernmost tip of the South Island and after that, it is nothing but the Tasman Sea.  Near Cape Farewell and the Farewell Spit are some really awesome beaches.  One had loads of sand dunes, bringing back warm memories of summers we sometimes spent in North Carolina.  Another beach was littered with entire pilot whale or dolphin skulls and even some vertebrae (just so you all know, this beach is known for beached whales and dolphins so they definitely died of natural causes).  How's that for a biology lesson?!?

Arthur's Pass and Back up to Picton
We had headed north since we weren't sure whether Arthur's Pass (road that goes from coast to coast across the South Island) was a "must see" but as we met more and more people who raved more and more about it, we decided that since we had time, we might as well go back down and drive across it.  Really worth it!  Once again, we found ourselves amidst the landscape of the striking Southern Alps which I don't think I could ever get tired of.

*Note the Kea on the "Keep Kea Safe" sign!*

After a few short stops on the way up, we finally made it up to Picton, the town of the ferry terminal, so we said our many thanks and goodbyes to the unforgettable South Island.

Now I see the reason why you always have to visit a city twice to really get to know it.  Last time we were in Wellington, we were in a very busy, dirty part of the city and it was very windy and murky (which is why the city is nicknamed "Windy Wellington") so I did not get a very good impression of it either than the Weta Film Studios (read my last blog for details).  This time, we were in a different part of the city and, although it was still windy and cold like always, I got a completely different impression of it.  It turns out Wellington is like Nelson on steroids!  It is all about the arts: movies, visual art, music, and so much more.  Just like if I heard someone was studying biology in Galapagos, I would tell them they were in the perfect place, I would tell someone the exact same thing if they told me they were studying the arts in Wellington!

First of all, the number one on the must-see list in Wellington is the Te Papa museum (aka: National Museum).  For starters, it is free!  It has everything about everything!  It ranges from measuring the size of an earthquake to how Dreamworks makes their animation films (this one was a temporary exhibit that does cost a few dollars but it super, super good).

Life size blue whale's heart!

It's hard to capture the Dreamworks exhibit in images but you do learn a lot about how
animation works which is pretty sweet

Another exhibit was the "Galipoli: The Scale of our War" which had
humongous statues done by Weta Studios so of course, it was meticulously
done down to every single leg hair!
Another interesting site in Wellington is the movie archive centre which contains every single movie ever made in New Zealand (or any movie that has anything to do with New Zealand) which they have on all the computers there!  We didn't watch any of the movies but I did look at some of the educational videos about how they make different types of movies, like animation for example.

Also, we happened to be in Wellington at the time of the yearly arts festival.  One day in one of the downtown parks, we happened to stumble upon an odd looking playground.  It had a ferris wheel with toilets as seats, a merry-go-round with bikes and little airplanes to sit on instead of horses, a can knockdown game where you shot olive pits, and so many more zany rides and games!  We played a few of the games and found out that the actors, who were wearing vintage clothing and putting on some hilarious accents, came all the way from Spain!  The best part was that all the rides and games were people-powered!

A little bit outside of the city is a nature centre/park which is called Zealandia.  It is an open but protected bird sanctuary and we got to walk around the whole place and see so many unique birds we hadn't seen yet in New Zealand.  For example, we saw the Takahe which are big, blue birds with very abnormally large feet, which make them walk in a very awkward manner!  We also saw the Kaka parrot which look exactly like the Kea parrot and are also clever and mischievous like the Kea (go figure!).

Gisborne-More Natural Waterslides
As we continued north, we reached Gisborne.  The town was a quaint, quiet little beach town with not that many tourists.  We even had a waitress at a restaurant, when we told her we were "just visiting Gisborne", ask us "Why?"!  Anyways, the town was a nice place to just sit and relax for a few days.  What really put Gisborne "on the map" for us though, was the natural waterslides just outside town.

Apparently we like our waterslides "au natural" since this is our second one we have been to in less than five months (read about the first one in my Fiji blog)!  Anyways, the Gisborne one were quite different than the ones on Taveuni, Fiji.  This one was just a long slope covered in moss with the river continually running down it.  If you want to know the easiest way to make something slippery, just add moss and water because it is incredible how slippery it is!  The only problem was, it was a very bumpy ride down and we had no boogie boards.  Not to fear, we always have tricks up our sleeves!  We decided to use one of our tent mattresses!  Hey, we were not the only crazy ones there: we saw quite a few people who also had bed mattresses!

We decided to make our last stop a hot one: Rotorua.  Honestly, don't dig too deep under Rotorua, volcanic capital of New Zealand, or you will find something a step further than hot!

Anyways, we had a blast at Rotorua's Rainbow Springs park where we rode numerous times on the historical log ride that took us through New Zealand's history (and then eventually ended in the classic, big splash!).

Now, we are all back in Auckland, in the boatyard safe and sound.  In the first few days back, we marathoned the "Lord of the Rings" movies as we constantly called out, "Been there!," every time we saw a familiar location!

  We are trying to finish up the boat projects and we hope to splash (go back in the water) next week.  Then, the big question is: where will we head off to?  Well, we are going to hopefully visit a few more places in the Bay of Islands, get back up to Opua and then.... Who knows?!? We are still making decisions now but we will have a conclusion soon.  Until then, I hope you all enjoyed hearing about the last of our land adventures and happy Easter to everyone!

Egg drop for science on Easter Friday!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

There and Back Again….The last part of our Middle Earth treck

So !  We are back in Auckland after our terrific 49 day tour of Middle Earth (North and South Islands)...phew......that was fun ! Still, it’s nice to be home as we try to get ourselves back into some sort of routine and wait for the captain to return from his whirl wind tour in Canada. 

As I look back at this most recent trip, there are a few things that stand out in my mind:

Firstly: I think it’s really cool that New Zealand was able to provide the kids with some eye opening experiences through the excellent and modern museums, special exhibits cultural events and open air festivals we attended....I think that many of these were similar to experiences  they would have had in Canada and which have been lacking from our lives while we visited the more remote places on our trip. Its really nice to have been able to give these types of learning opportunities on top of all the others ones they’ve had in the last two years !

Secondly: I realised that I am TIRED....don’t get me has been an absolute  BLAST, but traveling everyday on top of teaching and parenting 24-7... sometimes got to be a bit much....and now I ‘m glad to get a bit of rest ! I am proud of what the kids and I were able to achieve together, we managed to have LOADS of fun even with all the *extra unforeseen* little side adventures which inevitably had to happen along the way......(more on that below)...

Thirdly: I am SO GRATEFUL that we were able to do this and ....WOW was that ever a great trip ...I think that over the next few months and years it will slowly start to sink in on just how lucky we were to have been able to do this ! 

and finally: If I didn’t say it enough already: New Zealand is just such a wonder of a place! I am happy that we got to know it and its people a little bit better. In general I think it is safe to say that Kiwis are kind, down to earth, sincere and humble people. There aren’t too many ‘show offs’ here. There doesn’t seem to be any “Jones to keep up with”...people are proud and strong....but no one is shouting from the roof tops about how great they are or how great their country is ***....they just  smile and quietly acknowledge it when you tell them, and they continue to preserve it and protect its natural environment so that others can come and enjoy it...they take good care of it but they are very good at sharing it.   I think when people visit NZ for the first time they might be as surprised as I was at the beauty of the place...I suspected it was great....but I never truly understood until I saw it!  Ok...I guess I am ready  to go and get my “I “heart” Aotearoa”  t-shirt now....because I do...I really really do!

         (*** Except when it comes to Rugby…then they're all  " We're the Champions of the World!"  n' stuff….)


Only in NZ !  This is an actual is found on the east coast of the North is probably the longest word in the barely fits on  the (Lonely Planet) map...without crossing half way across the Pacific Ocean !

I won't attempt to re-type that name as my fingers hurt just thinking about it! It is a Maori name and translates to : “The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees who slid, climbed and swallowed a mountain, known as landeater played his flute to his loved one”
....I swear, I am not making this stuff up

LIVE children? ......  as opposed to what ????

Not photgraphed but seen at the town of Ohope (North Island); Sign on the side of the road which simply read :

                          “ CAUTION!!  WATERMELONS !!”

These and many other signs we read on our journey made us smile....only in New Zealand !  They are adorable !

While I was standing in line at the check in (“chicken”) desk at a campground my eye brows went up a little when I heard the lady ask the three girls she was serving in front of me  : “Do you need any beatings?” which they replied politely “ No thank you”....then I got it.....she was asking them  if they needed linen/pillows (bedding) for their cabin. 

I also forgot to mention another favourite Kiwi story. When Mark and the boys were sailing into New Zealand waters  they were hailed by the Kiwi Army Patrol which were flying a large plane overhead...Over radio they asked the usual questions: Nationality, intentions etc....but then they asked Mark a question he was not expecting “ Do you have any whippets on board ?”...Mark politely asked him to repeat this question a couple of times and just before he was about to answer : "No, we do not carry any racing dogs on board”  he GOT IT...”Weapons!”...” No, no ….we do not have any WEAPONS on board!”.

Challenges: It is not an adventure without them !

Other than the previously mentionned: "being eaten alive by sandflies" and "bailing out our tent after an EPIC rain storm which soaked ALL of our blankets, clothe and pillows"… we've also had these happen: 

-Almost loosing our windshield while driving towards Abel Tasman (turns out it had been poorly glued on when installed a few years back!)
-Having the back hatch on the van open as we were driving up a very steep gravel road and dropping all of our dishes, pans, pots and cuttlery etc...strewn all the way down the hill and in the bushes around.
-Getting my chance to use the benefits of our AAA membership to get a free boost after leaving the lights on the car and draining the battery
-Paying for admission for three to go and see a movie (while we were waiting for afore- mentionned AAA), only to leave in the first 5 minutes because the movie theatre was a very cute and cozy but tiny living room sized room in which  Matthew was unable to stay quiet for the other 4 patrons ...(Meg got to stay and watch the movie though).
 -Being pulled over by a police officer for going “a little bit too slow” after leaving a town (that is a first for me!)  The officer was very nice and let me off... giving me tourism information about the next town we were headed towards rather than giving me a fine !  

Two rotten Kiwis!!! 
Maybe-and quite possibly-the only two in existence out there !  

Another “life experience" we were dealt while on the trip was a costly one....we “lost”  (read “were robbed of”) two brand new ipads (Meg and Matthews) from a campground near Wellington. I had the misfortune of being set up in very close proximity to two very dishonest Kiwis...I honestly didn’t think they existed. Having left the two devices to charge at a plug in the communal took a mere 20 minutes for the unthinkable to happen. I admit that this one shook me and, yes : I was ANGRY for the first 24 hours. really gets to me when something which belongs to the kids gets taken...We had to get the police  involved and hoped for a while that we could get the devices back,(The camp staff and I knew who had done it- long story-but let me just say that  it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure it out) but the officer, although very helpful, could not search the pair without proper proof and we weren’t able to track them down using the usual FindmyPhone apps either (since neither device had this app turned on) and so we had to let them slip away......BUT we were determined not to let these two jerks ruins this journey for we just let go and moved on with our trip. Here is what we saw:

The last leg of our Middle Earth Tour: 

Abel Tasman, Golden Bay and the Farewell Spit 
(Top Western corner of South Island.) 

A cool display of what happens when things go wrong 
Throughout our journey around the South Island we met many backpackers from all over the world...and a large majority seemed to be  headed towards Abel Tasman National partake in the Great Walk there was quite a draw for us to stop in and see what all the fuss was about . 

We left Nelson and drove up...stopping along the way whenever we saw something that caught our attention: Glass blowers, seaside town and with cute market places and ......tame eels ....???  (This seems to be a big thing here....we encountered no less than 4 different places which advertised “TAME EELS” as a tourist destination.....okay...we just HAD to see this !  

(Yup...they are real live eels and they are tamed !)

Since we had not been able to book into the Abel Tasman Coast Walk - (The huts are booked as far as one year in advance!) we opted to just do a day hike....just a short 3 hour return walk gave us a good idea as to why this place was so popular.  It is a longer walk than the Routeburn (60 km vs Routeburn’s 32km) and most of it is along the ocean, walking on pristine  beaches and through rain forrest. Some people divide the walk into a part hiking and part kayaking adventure, over 3-5 days. We put it down on our “New Zealand Return Trip Must Do’s”.

The star fish looked cookie-cutter perfect in the sand !

Scenes from the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk

Abel Tasman Coastal Walk

Farewell Spit Area

No, he didn't fall…he CHOSE to slide down this way!
The Farewell Sand Spit is the South Island most Northern point. There are fewer tourists here but the scenery is just as marvelous as anywhere else. We were pleasantly surprised to see many large cave formations and Arches in the Sea as we had an after dinner stroll along the beach. The Golden Bay area is also worth mentionning, as we stopped in the charming little villages along the way....and there we found a de-li-cious chocolate store called “Rosie’ Chocolates”. This is  where we met a former Canadian lady who- as she puts it- “reinvented her life” (from architect in Toronto to chocolate salesperson in Golden Bay!)
…and then take a moment to admire the world from this new perspective..

Another interesting stop in the Golden Bay area was the Ngarua caves, where we got to see (and touch!) real Moa bones (A Moa was a very large flightless bird which used to live in New Zealand - They were hunted to extinction, but the largest of the Moas where even larger than an ostrich). The Moa skeletons found in the cave was from a few of these birds who had fallen in to the cave thousands of years before ! 

Oh ! ... And we are ever glad that we stopped to see Te Waikoropupu Springs (or just “pupu” springs for the locals). This is the largest fresh water spring in Australasia. It is a sacred Moari place and the water is OH-SO-CLEAR- It was very difficult to resist the temptation to jump in! You could see the multicoloured waterplants were swirling around as the spring bubbled...makes me thirsty just thinking of it....

'Pupu Fresh Water  Spring

Arthur's Pass

We simply could not leave the South Island until we had driven on the Arthur’s Pass. We had been told over and over just how beautiful this pass across the middle of the Island was (Joins the West Coast to the East, right around Christchurch). We took a day to drive it, slowly and stop at the many view was a sunny glorious day and the pass was every bit as beautiful as we had been promised. We are glad we did it !

... and I'm sorry but when you drive by a town called Springfield and you hear that they errected a giant doughnut in honour of the Simpsons…you just HAVE to stop for a photo- op !!!

Then we drove up the East coast of the South Island for one last look...

….and then back on the ferry to cross the Cook's Straight once more...

 North Island….almost home...


In the recent past the city of Wellington (capital of New Zealand) has been called Welli-wood in reference to its great success at making major motion pictures ( and not just the Lord of the Rings either...many other big names were made here or were enhanced with the help of the Weta studios)....On our second visit we discovered just how great a city Wellington is......We took a bit more time to feel the artsy vibe and enjoy its lively water front. We had been told that the National Museum (aka Te Papa) was one not to be missed and so we headed there first. 

UN-BE-LIE-VABLE !  A really great museum, probably the best I’ve been in...ever ....and get is free admission !  We spent most of the day and could have spent another 2 days there for sure !  Here are the kids crawling into a life-sized blue whales heart

Walking along the waterfront in Wellington delivers great surprises....and interesting architecture.

There was a festival happening the week we were there...and the kids got to enjoy the (free) rides at this artful and eclectic carnival. (If you look closely the seats on this kiddie-ferris wheel are actually toilets !  The rides were all run on “human powered” energy, including this great one : A place for parents to relax with music and be fanned by their children !  

And.. I am not sure if this is a thing which has caught on everywhere in the world....but we have seen many of these urban pianos in various places around NZ, and anyone can just sit and play....brilliant...especially when talented artists like this guy have a go !

Since Wellington is such a hub for movie making, it seemed fitting that we stop in at the Nga Taonga Sound and Vision (Film Archives).  We got to watch local short films and also short videos explaining how certain animation were done. Complemented with a visit to the DreamWorks studio exhibit  (temporary exhibit at Te Papa) Meghan delighted in learning about the process in making some of her favourite animation films such as Madagascar and Shrek.

Meg learning about animation at the Film Archives

Our last stop was Zealandia, a large green space and  bird sanctuary right in the middle of the city. As we walked along the tracks we encountered a few species which we had not yet seen...including the Takahē (a large flightless bird which is a much rounder and more colourful version of the common pukeko) and the Kaka (native parrot). Nice to see these endangered birds thriving in this protected environment !  (They built a very tall wall around the entire perimeter of Zealandia to keep the cats and other predators out……I'm not sure if it is truebut I heard a rumour that Donald Trump wants to come over and see it   ;)


After leaving Wellington we drove to the East coast and stayed a couple of days in the town of Napier. We found it to be a great little seaside town. Then we were off to Gisborne where we'd heard about these fun natural rock slides…and we had a go on those ! Of course, Matthew being Matthew he decided that it was more fun to stand in the steepest part of the slipery slopes and slowly walk UP the slide while his mother was screaming at him to sit down…and having a heart attack at the same time… (Of course he made it all the way to the top without falling!)


We decided to spend our last day in the Rainbow Springs Attraction. We chose this place because it advertised a BIG SPLASH ride...and that sounded like a fun way to finish off our adventures....The Big Splash ride was a hit, and because it was a quiet day, we were able to go again...and again…... and again....and the kids loved it !

Well...that’s it ! 

 Like I said, we are now just waiting for the return of the fourth member of our crew and decide ....where to next ????

We shall see..we shall see...

Loads of love

(+ 1M on his way back very soon)