This article is out of order, as we left New Zealand on December 4 (we are now in Ecaudor, headed to Peru on the 7th). As I mentioned in a previous post about French Polynesia, there was so much more that I wanted to say about NZ, I needed more time to put thoughts together.
New Zealand, at least outside of Auckland, is about being outside. It is an incredibly set of places, appreciated by, and explored by, a fit, friendly and outgoing people. When you ask Kiwis for advice on what to do, you get a list of activities which include:
1. Tramping - hiking where a two day hike with overnight in a public cabin at altitude is "short".
2. Rafting - usually involving significant whitewater and freezing rivers.
3. Bouldering - preceded by a lengthy drive to make sure rescue will be impossible or slow.
4. Mountain biking - in the Southern Alps. There is a reason they are called "Alps".
5. Sailing - "You'll be fine unless there's a storm, which happens a lot".
6. Diving - in caves.
The crazy thing is that these Kiwi folks do all of this. Kiwis tramp, bungee, Zorb, parasail, sail, cave, do coast to coast triathlons and ultra marathons. They are intimidating.
We did not try to keep up, but did manage to spend a great deal of time outside exploring and appreciating the incredible beauty and variety of these two gorgeous islands.
South Island: Christchurch
As Laura has already written, we started our New Zealand time in Christchurch, where we happily reconnected with the friends we made in Vietnam, Bruce and Simone. Bruce was off to work (flying for Air New Zealand) and then to take a course on cave rescue diving (see what I mean?), but was able to meet up with us for lunch in the airport before leaving. We had a wonderful dinner with Simone and two of their kids at their home (happily agreed to 3 hours prior - we love spontaneous people). By the end of our time with them, Bruce had connected us to his parents, insisting that we connect with them in Wanaka as part of our travels to Queenstown.
Though much of downtown Christchurch is still recovering from the earthquakes, our swanky hostel, Urbanz, happened to be around the corner from a delightful shopping street which had survived unscathed. We enjoyed a few days in Christchurch before heading out of town, planning on breaking up our trajectory toward Queenstown.
South Island: Lake Tekapo
Our first stop was at the beautiful Lake Tekapo, still in Canterbury. We had intended to just do a quick selfie stop, but were captivated by the wildflowers and the color of the water.
Like so much of the South Island, Lake Tekapo shows the power of water and snow capped mountains in the same view. Our drives through the South Island were more punctuated with oohs and ahs than any other drive I can remember.
South Island: Mt. Cook View
Before our overnight stay at a holiday park in Twizel, we made a stop to try to repeat a favorite family photo from our last New Zealand visit almost exactly 15 years before. The kids are a little bigger now (make sure to slide to see both).
South Island: Lake Hawea
From Twizel, we made our way to Lake Hawea to meet up with Peter and Rosie. We made a great stop at Nanny Goat vineyards, which Laura picked as the only winery which actually served food. Most vineyards have some snacky foods to sell, but this was an exceptional meal.
We loved the fresh baked bread, herbed butter, black cherry chutney, and assortment of cheeses and savory pastries. We even re-upped on the bread order, which we don't do when the bread is free normally. Their wines were very nice as well.
Upon arrival in Lake Hawea, we were greeted by Rosie and Peter, and a persistent strong wind, which they said had been blowing for the last month. Laura and I were eager to go for a walk, so Rosie led us to the start of a path which paralleled the river. Again, breathtaking New Zealand beauty, but this time infested with bunnies.
Peter and Rosie were incredibly welcoming to these people they knew only from a phone call and some testimonial from Bruce and Simone. We learned that they have a long tradition of hosting travellers, including having housed many budding jet pilots from the Cook Islands while Peter was leading them through flight training. We were tickled by stories of Bruce growing up (note to self: meet new friends' parents asap so you can get the background directly), and I was honored when Peter broke open a bottle of Laphroiag Legacy edition which had been a special gift (I think from Bruce).
Rosie made us incredible dinners, and was particularly pleased that we would actually eat dessert, as many people don't, and she loves making dessert. Truth to tell, we've been eating less dessert since starting the trip, but, given the caliber of her cooking, we weren't about to say no to the final course.
On our second day with them, Peter offered to take us on a "short hike". We should have known from the stories and from looking at his endless legs that Peter's definition of short might not coincide with ours. We headed up to Glenhu Bay, to climb up to Rocky Peak Viewpoint. This was a pretty challenging, often steep, ascent through switchbacks to increasingly breathtaking views. Naomi was a trooper, only once saying under her breath that this would be her last hike for the next year, and we all managed to make it to the top with no falls or twisted ankles. And the view was worth it!
Our time with Rosie and Peter was wonderful, including the great advice about where to go next. Based on this expert counsel, we headed toward Milford Sound. Our first stop on the way was at Puzzling World, a surprisingly cool collection of optical illusions, mazes and strange sensory experiences. The Hall of Faces was particularly daunting! Keegan took great pride in mastering the bewildering maze best of all of us.
South Island: Mirror Lakes
Closer to Milford Sound, we stopped at the Mirror Lakes, which lived up to their name. In spite of the ever changing weather in NZ, we had perfect sunny conditions to witness the images in these natural reflectors.
South Island: Milford Sound
Milford Sound is acknowledged to be misnamed, as it is not a sound, but a fjord. Apparently the difference is that a sound is formed by water erosion, where a fjord was carved by glaciers. The trip up the sound is gorgeous, though the outbound is windy and wavey enough to force most people to spend their time inside rather than at the front of the boat.
We saw many penguins, seals and waterfalls, before we were treated to a stunning view of multiple peaks with glaciers descending into the sound.
We spent a quiet evening in Te Anau before heading to Queenstown for our last few days on the South island.
South Island: Queenstown
Queenstown is known as the adventure sports capital of the world, but we weren't terribly adventurous during our time there. We did start with the cable car and mountaintop luge racing. This was a good stress module for Naomi, who managed to stop dead immediately before the only flat turn on the course. Since I was following her, the stress transferred to me, and rocking ones luge back and forth to get some momentum is both not easy, and not graceful. We became more skilled by the end of our five runs.
Laura and I took advantage of a slightly nicer bit of weather to rent bikes and bike around the Franklin Arm of Lake Wakatipu to Kelvin Heights. The bike path featured sculptures, a golf course, and some excellent cafes. We were happy to have a good, fairly flat, warm up ride prior to our big aspirations for time on the North Island.
After returning from the bike ride, just as it started pouring rain, Laura wanted to seek out a particular wine shop in Queenstown which her parents had raved about when they visited about ten years ago. We were able to find "The Winery" and enjoy their DIY tastings, where you use a card and your glass, and can choose to taste any of the wines which are dispensed in either a taste or a full glass. At the end, you pay for what you've accumulated on the card. We thought of Laura's mom, Leila and raised a glass to both her and Larry.
North Island: Onemana
Upon arriving in Auckland, we headed immediately toward the East coast and Onemana. We were meeting up with Jennifer (guest star of our Bali and Australia adventures), her partner Doug, and two friends of theirs - Jimmy and Suzie - to celebrate American Thanksgiving! Onemana is basically a sleepy town of vacation homes (sometimes referred to as "batches") and we were there because the four of them had met another couple while riding on the South island, who had offered their place.
Trying to put together an American Thanksgiving dinner is daunting in the best of circumstances, and especially so in a small town in New Zealand. We found only small turkeys, had to go to multiple stores before finding any pumpkin and pie crusts, and totally struck out in finding canned onions to duplicate Grandma Leila's recipe. We had one small oven, and a barbecue. Undaunted, a feast was accomplished through Doug's excellent barbecue ingenuity, much teamwork, and Naomi's artistic dough renderings to cap the dessert. After a great feast and two days of fun at the beach being American together, it was time for the four of them to head off, and for us to head to Auckland.
North Island: Twin Coast Cycle Trip - Opua to Horeke
Keegan and Naomi were excited to have some time on their own in a real city to explore, and Laura and I wanted to do a longer bike ride, so we set them up with an airbnb in Auckland, and then headed north. After researching the available rides, we settled on the Twin Coast Cycle Trail - heading east to west. This would be a two day, 97 kilometer trail. The first day was almost all on rails to trails paths, so well graded and easily accessible for our well-walked but out of cycling shape legs. We got up reasonably early in the morning, picked up our bikes and left our luggage with Twin Coast Cycle, and started riding.
It was a great ride, about 4 hours of actual riding each day. We found a newly restored bank building which had been converted into a delightful hotel (Left Bank in Kaikohe) for our overnight stay. The ride took us through lots of pastoral areas (yes, there are still many many sheep and very happy looking cows in New Zealand), and into several small, mostly Maori towns. The change in vegetation and population density was remarkable as we crossed the watershed to the east coast downslope. Contrary to our fears, the route was dramatically deserted. The only people we encountered going the same direction as us were two parties we had seen renting bikes at the start of our trip. For almost all of the time, we were alone, soaking in yet more pristine NZ beauty.
North Island: Bay of Islands: Paihia / Opua
We were brought back from Horeke to Opua, where we had opted to stay for another day of sightseeing. We economized on our hotel - staying in a hostel, and splurged on a dinner cruise. The boat was able to accomodate up to 55 guests. When we arrived, it was just us and two other couples! The cruise took us out into the Bay of Islands, then up through a shallow bay to Hururu Falls.
After a great three days as just a couple, we headed back to Auckland to pick up the kids, and spend one last night before leaving this fabulous country to head to French Polynesia.
Throughout our time in New Zealand, I was stuck by the beauty of the land, the appreciation of the people for nature, and the far better relations between the indiginous Maori and the Brit descendant westerners than we had seen in other countries, particularly Australia. New Zealand is a small country in population, but huge in natural beauty and heart.
We will never forget the kindness and wisdom shown to us by Bruce, Simone, Jackson, Nikki, Rosie and Peter during our time there. What a great family in a great country.