A Travellerspoint blog

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South Island here we come!

sunny 72 °F

There are two ferries that travel between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. Sue chose to book us passage on the budget rust bucket Bluebridge Ferry to save some $$$. As of this moment, we are over 2 hours delayed departure with no sail-away time announced. That's the bad news. The good news: free (slow) wifi, kids play area, movies on a big screen. We have no complaints.

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Fast forward…

Even though we arrived in Picton on the South Island over two hours late, it really didn't matter. The ferry wound its way through the Marlborough Sounds with incredible views of private islands, native-growth tree-covered hills and sparkling blue coves. Sitting at the front of the boat together felt like our own private tour of this truly magnificent corner of the world.

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Once in Picton, we made a quick run to the grocery, then traveled by water taxi to our VRBO in one of the remote bays--accessible only by boat. Our skipper Jeremy was a sweet college kid on his summer job. He allowed both Pearl and Henry to operate the boat.
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What a lovely two days we had--a vacation from our fast-paced vacation! Wifi availability can be both a blessing and a curse. Our cute little cottage had no wifi--but we were ready for a break from checking email and making plans. We spent the days kayaking through the coves and hiking on the famous Queen Charlotte Track with views from the tops of high hilltops to all of Marlborough Sounds. Henry loved solo kayaking to check out the local wildlife: birds, fish, jellyfish, stingrays.

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On a humorous note, we had to keep a close eye on our cottage. The best way to get airflow through the structure was to leave the sliding glass door wide open. In our yard was a Weka family; Wekas are flightless birds that look like a cross between a duck and chicken with a dorky gait and stubby little useless wings. Persistent momma weka continually attempted to enter our cottage or approach us while lounging on the sun deck. Henry says this is the first time that he's heard of a Rail being a nuisance bird.

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Now we are back in the land of the electronically connected. Tonight we are in Kaiteriteri which is in the northwest corner of the South Island, right next to Abel Tasman National Park.

In case you haven't heard the news: Henry and Dave saw a kiwi in the wild!!!! They booked a night tour at Zealandia which is a preserve near Wellington. At Zealandia, the large grounds of native bush are enclosed by fence, not in order to keep the kiwi in, but rather to keep the predators out. Check out Henry's blog for more details. http://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/
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Posted by skwclar 22:42 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Abel Tasman nearly landed here

sunny 70 °F

Having a 13-year-old and a 6-year-old makes it challenging to find activities that please both kids. Today we explored the Abel Tasman National Park. First we cruised on an excursion boat along the entire coastline of the park and saw beautiful coves, white sand beaches, seabirds, seals, and penguins. Other passengers hailed from China, Germany, Russia, and Australia, based on the wide variety of languages used to calm cranky children on board. This part of New Zealand is called the Golden Bay--on average the highest temps and sunniest skies in the whole country. Today didn't disappoint.
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Boating past a famous rock formation. Our nominations for best title: Butt Cheek Rock. Split Pants Rock.
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Next the water taxi dropped us off at Torrent Bay so that we could "tramp" along the beautifully maintained Abel Tasman Coastal Track for 6 km. Pearl kept us entertained with non-stop running dialogue about a new backpack invention. Henry kept ahead of our chatty crowd for optimum birding. Both kids were happy even though Pearl could have settled for a little less tramping and Henry for a little more.

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We want to remember this unique forest here called the bush. It reminds us of the Alaskan rainforest--lush green foliage, tall fern trees, cicadas buzzing, variable calls of the Tui, and stunning overlooks to secret beaches surrounded by aqua water.

Right now we are watching the kids build a sand castle on the beach while waiting for our return water taxi.
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Snack maintenance is a big part of traveling with our kids. Our current kid-tested favorites include teriyaki jerky, green grapes, dark chocolate granola bars, and their new fav cheesie-weezies, the NZ version of Cheetos. The trick is to provide enough snacks to keep the 13-year-old happy, but not make the 6-year-old too filled up to eat a meal, which is a struggle on the best of days. It's a fine balancing act of fairness and keeping pie holes happy. Dave and Sue have become a well-oiled machine in this snack anticipation, administration and denial; however, any suggestions are welcome.

A random question that we have for Donna Rowsell, or any other Kiwi who may read this: Refrigerators in this country seem small to us. How in the world do you fit this much dog food into your fridge?
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For the past six days, we have enjoyed the relative calm of sleeping two nights in each of three different accommodations. For the next two weeks, we will madly dash our way through the rest of South Island on a series of one-night stands with a new mattress every night. We will sprinkle the countryside with random belongings that we forget to pack. Hopefully, we will not leave a kid behind in the process.

Posted by skwclar 21:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

The bridge on the river kiwi

sunny 74 °F

Today we had a long drive to our next destination, Hanmer Springs. During long trips, Henry tries to complete his homework but every now and then sees something distracting out the window. While working on Pimsleur French audio lessons, we often hear him say things like, "Je voudrais manger au restaurant GREY WARBLER!!!!!"

Another sure sign of summer: roadside blueberry stands. Our initial tasting confirmed NZ blueberries are at least on par with the excellent Michigan blueberries to which we've become addicted during the northern hemisphere summer.

Our picnic spot for lunch was at Nelson Lakes National Park where we gazed upon our first true mountains of New Zealand. Cue music from "Lord of the Rings" here.
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After lunch, we took a short hike through a beech forest--tall trees with incredibly small glossy leaves. They filtered the high noon sunlight into endless shades of green, unlike anything we had seen before. Due to time constraints and the formidable drive ahead of us, we chose a short family tramp, but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful 1.3 km walks that we've ever completed. We were serenaded by the tuis and bellbirds calling from above.
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Any playground is better than no playground as it helps Pearl get the wiggles out after a long car ride.
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Our second stop was at New Zealand's longest swing bridge. Sue reminisced about a scary swing bridge on a family vacation to northern Michigan when she was a kid.

The final stop before our destination was at Maruia Falls just outside of the town of Murchison. In 1929, this area was decimated by an earthquake of 7.9 on the Richter scale. Maruia Falls was a result of that massive earthquake when the riverbed heaved up approximately 75 feet along the fault line, easy for us to see and to count as a homeschooling science field trip.
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For the rest of our 7-hour drive, we needed to be mindful of our itinerary that warned: No gas for 100 km. We also noticed that there was no traffic as we drove over Lewis Pass and through beautiful wide valleys between mountain ranges. It felt oddly eerie like a zombie apocalypse had taken place...
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We finally arrived at our destination of Hanmer Springs after 7 hours in the car with the kids.

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Posted by skwclar 21:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Damage control in Christchurch

sunny 67 °F

Yesterday we arrived in Kaikoura along the east coast. It felt to us like Ireland due to the rolling hills, misty weather, and the frequent use of Irish names for the city streets. Our evening dinner of take-out fish 'n chips further reinforced this impression.

Our prim and proper innkeeper administered a 20-minute check-in orientation of the features of a standard, but unremarkable hotel room. Several times later in the day she unexpectedly let herself into our unit to tell us an urgent nugget of information, whilst disturbing Dave's mid-afternoon nap and snarling at his tube socks still muddy from mountain biking in Hamner Springs, soiling the pristine counterpane.

Our stay in Kaikoura was very low key because the weather was so dreary; although we managed to make the best of it with lunch in our car at a beautiful overlook of the Kaikoura Peninsula.

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In the late afternoon, the weather broke a bit so we hiked along the cliff-side trail with the return along the rocky beach. Along the way, we watched seabirds and fur seals.

Playground on the beach at Kaikoura
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This morning Henry participated in a boating tour "The Albatross Encounter." He enjoyed celebrity status on board since everyone else was at least 50 years older. For more details about his excursion which included sightings of the bird with the largest wingspan, dolphins, and a whale. http://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/
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Cathedral Cliffs on our way to Christchurch (No, Sue is not going to throw Pearl over the cliff)
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Then we headed to Christchurch. How can we put this nicely--Christchurch on a sunny day looks like a bombed-out East Berlin. The 2011 earthquake here was absolutely devastating, and it will be a very long time before the city fully recovers.

Christchurch Cathedral
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But the earthquake is no excuse for OUR WORST HOTEL EVER. The Ashford Motor Lodge, irrefutable proof that lodgings submit their own bogus reviews to TripAdvisor. Obviously last night the Nandubukijamar family had cooked a huge Indian curry buffet in our room. On the bright side, the pungent smell of onions and tika masala masks the mold spores wafting around in the bathroom. It will be a very early departure for the Griffin clan in the morning.

Posted by skwclar 22:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

A breath of fresh air

semi-overcast 68 °F

Due to the moldy hotel, we retreated at the crack of dawn to a surprisingly upscale McDonald's restaurant for a quick breakfast followed by a leisurely teeth brushing in the McD's restroom. Never before has breathing in the fresh scent of a clean public restroom been savoured so joyfully. After a brief, but intense "discussion" with the hotel manager, we left the Ashford Motor Inn without having to pay for the night's lodging. Good riddance to the only true ass we've met in NZ.

After a brief lunch at Lake Tekapo, where the air is reputedly the cleanest in New Zealand,
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we arrived in beautiful Aoraki Mount Cook National Park where we will enjoy the park for 5 nights…oops, I mean 16 hours due to our itinerary being dictated by the vacation slave driver.

View of the national park across Lake Pukaki. What 5-year old came up with that name?
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This place is what Grand Teton National Park might have looked like circa 1950: only spectacular glacier covered mountains, one hotel, and one backpackers' lodge. Our first order of business was a stretch of the legs on the Hooker Valley hiking trail. We traversed two suspension bridges and found a perfectly framed view of Mt. Cook--New Zealand's highest point.

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Tonight our accommodation is in a cute little national park chalet with a beautiful view of the mountains--Dave calls it the mountain Quonset hut. Well-appointed, clean, and air that smells of… nothing. Thank goodness. All four of us could use a good night's sleep.

Posted by skwclar 22:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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