Day 27: Taupo

Another day, another relaxing one. Can you tell at this point we are vacationed out?

Once again everyone slept in. After all were up we decided to check out two suspension bridges that were close to the National Trout center in Turangi. This is where they hatch trout to release into the streams. This was a nice little place to visit as you could feed the fish and observe the fish eating.

We then went to the bridges. Rachel tripped at the first bridge and fell into the mud. Thank goodness we have a washer and dryer at our rental.

We decided to return to the rental going the long way around the lake, hoping we would run into something to do. We did not. Once we reached Taupo we decided we were hungry so we stopped at the World’s Coolest McDonald’s. It’s true. I found it on a list stating it was the coolest. The McDonald’s had an old airplane that you could go up and eat in.

Once we got back to the rental I told the kids I would take them swimming at the complex pool. Normally I hate getting in pool water but this water was geothermally heated by the lake and the vents beneath it. The water was so warm I really enjoyed it.

After swimming I had some wine, cooked dinner, and folded laundry. Tomorrow we leave Taupo and head to Auckland.

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Day 26: Taupo

Today (Tuesday) was another easy day. Rachel still has a cold and so everyone slept in. It was also pouring rain so we were in no rush to get out and site see.

Once everyone was ready we decided to check Huka Falls and the Wai-O-Tapu park. This was a wise decision.

We first stopped at the Falls. The Falls were overflowing with water, due to all the rain they have been getting here. I wonder what the Falls looks like when there is not a lot of rain. It was hard to see the Falls due to the rushing water.

Next we headed to the park. This park was awesome. It had three different boardwalks you could follow. One was about a half hour of your time, two were about an hour, and three were about an hour and a half. All boardwalks were connected to each other so you could make the decision when you reached the crossroads if you wanted to continue or head back. The boardwalks did not repeat anything so you always got to see new things.

This park reminded me of Yellowstone, but without the tourists and fences. Yellowstone is some place I would love to take the kids, but we hate crowds in my family and I don’t want to do Yellowstone in the summer months. Everywhere you looked you saw bubbling streams, beautiful colors, sunken craters, bubbling mud, etc. There was even a geyser, but we were not able to watch it go off. The park also had a lovely gift shop where I finally bought some small souvenirs for myself.

Of course, as parents we can’t win. Jonas was truly bothered by the smell of the sulfur and kept making faces. Rachel on the other hand was perturbed that she could not smell the sulfur due to her cold.

We then headed back to our rental and made a decision that we would eat dinner out. Rachel had found a menu for Cobb and Company at our rental and wanted to try that place. We all agreed that dinner was our best dinner yet. No one bickered, Rachel ate a GOOD meal that she was happy with. So many times she is disappointed because what she wants to order is not gluten free.

Jonas wanted dessert at the restaurant but we talked him out of that and said he could have dessert at the rental. So we went back to the rental, had dessert, and then went to bed.

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Day 25: Nelson to Taupo

This morning we had to catch at 9:10 flight from Nelson to Wellington. We left our rental at 8:05 and managed to drive 13 minutes to the airport, return our rental car, and check our luggage all by 8:25 AM. I love short hop domestic flights in New Zealand. Our flight unfortunately was delayed about forty minutes due to a late arriving aircraft. I thought that was hilarious since the late arriving aircraft had not yet taken off from Wellington. The flight between Nelson and Wellington is only 25 minutes….

We landed in Wellington, grabbed a quick lunch and prepared to drive north towards Taupo. This is normally a five hour drive, but of course we stopped at some bridges so it made the drive longer…

I was not prepared for the beauty of the drive. Everyone talks about the beauty of the South Island, but I have found the North Island is equally beautiful. We passed through several varied landscapes. When we got towards the more central area of the island it looked as though Mountains had just fallen off. There appear to be several landslides in the area. Then you move to scenery that is reminiscent of New Mexico/Arizona with desert scenery (without cactuses) and volcanoes in the background. We constantly passed sheep. Even though there was a lot of rain on our drive it was gorgeous and it was hard to look away.

We probably could have stopped at one more bridge on the way to our lodging but Rachel was not feeling well (she has a cold) so we skipped one that would have added at least an hour to our trip. We checked into our rental which is right on Lake Taupo. I found some take-away for us for dinner and also stopped at a pharmacy to pick up some medicine for Rachel. That is one thing we take for granted in the US. I know I can always find a pharmacy open late or 24 hours. Here the pharmacy closed at 7:30 so I had to hurry to get there before it closed. After dinner we all went bed with plans to sleep in the next morning.

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Day 24: Nelson

Today we took a vacation day. We all slept in and then had plans to visit the Nelson Sunday market. Nelson is known as the sunniest place in New Zealand. So just our luck it was raining Sunday and the market did not seem to occur. Instead we poked around in a few stores. We eventually drove to see a couple of bridges, then we went to a grocery store to grab food for lunch and dinner. We came back to the rental for two hours and then I took the kids to see Despicable Me 3. We came back to the rental and I made dinner.
Rachel now seems to have a cold 😦 Hopefully she will not have it when it is time for us to fly home and hopefully no one else will catch it.

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Day 23: Abel Tasman National Park

Today we explored the Abel Tasman National Park. We were on a 9:30 water taxi to Torrent Bay, and then we planned to hike from there to Bark Bay. In order to catch our taxi we needed to leave our apartment at 8:00….so it meant an early morning for everyone.

The water taxi was better than I expected. It starts with the water taxi being pulled into the water with a tractor. This is because the tide varies so much and the area they start the taxis at is very shallow. Once the boat was in the water, the driver drove us past Split Apple Rock. This is a rock that split, and thus it looks like a split apple. During high tide you can kayak between it.

Next the water taxi stopped at a seal colony. The colony was females and pups. We were able to watch them for about ten minutes. It was pretty cool watching them play and swim.

After that, we were dropped off at our location. We then had a 6.4 km hike to reach our pickup location. The kids did pretty well on the hike. There was some complaining midway through, but at that point we stopped for a quick “picnic” lunch. Next they were looking forward to the bridge, and after that the hike was almost over. So while there were some complaints, they were not too bad.

While on the hike we went to Medlands Beach. This was a very nice beach to just relax at. The water was crystal clear on both sides and there were lots of shells. It would have been an awesome place to swim if the water and temperatures were warmer.

While it was way too cold to do any swimming, one of the benefits of doing this hike in the winter was the lack of crowds. Supposedly in the summer the beaches in this park would have been filled with day hikers and backpackers.

After Medlands Beach we continued to our pickup beach called Bark Bay. On one side you had the ocean and on the other side was a huge bay. It was interesting to observe how much the coast/bay changes with the tide. The kids put a stick where the water touched the sand and we observed how quickly the tide went out. Additionally I noticed the same thing with some steps that I had been sitting on.
Our taxi came promptly at 3:15 to pick us up. We reached our car and made it back to our rental around 4:30. We relaxed for a few minutes and figured out dinner. The boys ordered fish and chips from a take away place across the street from us. Rachel had a gluten free fried calamari from the restaurant (The Styx)we ate at the night before, and I made myself some pasta. We then settled in for the night.

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Day 22: Greymouth to Nelson

This morning we headed out to the Brunner Suspension bridge.  This was a bridge that was built to create a link to the mine sites.  This was one of New Zealand's earliest suspension bridges – it opened in 1864.  Kind of weird to think that as this bridge was being built, the Civil War was going on in the US.  This bridge was at a very interesting site due to the coal mine history.  There were several buildings and placards telling information about the mine and the bridge.  There had been a very famous (in New Zealand) mine disaster in the very late 1800's and there was a lot of information about this.  I thought it was very interesting that there had been four horses that refused to go into the mine that day.  The miners were only able to get the horses into the mine after they covered their eyes with cloths.  Ultimately, the horses died in the explosion.  But they must have sensed something was up.

After the visit to the bridge we headed to the West Coast.  We drove to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.  When we arrived it was pouring down rain.  There was a break in the rain so we headed to the loop trail and to see the rocks and blowholes.  As we were on our hike it rained some more and we all got wet.  Still, the rocks were pretty neat to see.  I enjoyed listening to the blow holes and watching the waves crash against the rocks.  There was one place where the waves created a sort of chimney – as the waves crashed against the rocks it seemed like they created steam.

We had a quick snack in the cafe and then we continued our drive up north and then back towards the east.  We stopped on the route to see the Buller Gorge Swing bridge.  Well – Rachel and I stayed in the car and the men went to see it.  You actually had to pay to cross it.  According to the men it was very wobbly.

We ended up arriving at our Nelson rental around 6:30 PM.  This rental is right on the harbor.  After unloading our stuff we noticed a seafood restaurant across the street and we decided to eat there.  This was probably the best dinner we have had so far, in terms of everyone getting along (kids and parents included).  We learned that the owner of the restaurant was actually from Brainerd, MN…an area that I have family members in.  She also attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  So of course we had to see if we could find a person that we both knew (we did not).

Finally, we came back to the rental and started doing laundry and going to bed.  We had to be up early the next morning.

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Day 21: Franz Josef

Today was the day I was not sure how it would turn out. We tentatively had a glacier walk tour scheduled. But conditions had to be good for the helicopter pilots to fly and also they needed to asses Rachel to see if she could do the climb. We brought her into the glacier center and they determined she was ok to go up.
The next question was whether our tour would happen as the weather forecast was questionable. Our original tour was scheduled for 11 AM but they bumped it back an hour because of the weather. At noon they made the determination that it was safe to go.
Thus, we all proceeded to get our glacier gear. They provided everything you needed for the glacier. Everyone carried with them a bag that had our crampons in it and anything else you needed.
We left the glacier center and walked to the helicopter landing area. It is quite an operation. They have helicopters landing and taking off every five minutes. Because of my side, I had to ride in the front seat and the kids were in the back.
We took off. It was a beautiful flight. From the air the glacier did not look that big, but once you land you realize how gigantic the glacier really is. It is also amazing how small a space is needed to land a helicopter.
YouTube video of our flight
We got off the helicopter and they had us crouch down low as the helicopter does not turn off when you get off. Then once we were all off the helicopter took off. The helicopter generated a lot of wind. Thankfully a guide stood behind Rachel as the copter took off.

We proceeded up some stairs made out of ice. At the top we put our crampons on our shoes. We then waited for our guide assignment. We were very excited when we learned we would have our own guide. This was very generous of Franz Josef Glacier guides. Rachel would have slowed other groups down.

As we got started Rachel was really afraid to proceed. I think part of it was due to all the precautions they state at the beginning. She worries about worst case scenarios. Our guide realized she was struggling and he had her go to the front of our group. Once she was in front things seemed to go much better.

The guide took us through an amazing glacier. There are many trails on the glacier that the guides are constantly creating. They are doing this because the ice is constantly shifting. The Franz Josef Glacier is unlike other glaciers. Most glaciers are relatively flat. But due to the constant ice shifting it creates all sorts of crevices and fissures and huge blocks of ice. He said if we were ever to go on another glacier hike that we would be disappointed.

This glacier was just amazing. It was awesome and scary to be on such a huge glacier. At times we could hear the glacier breaking at the top and hear pieces of ice falling down but you wouldn't know where those pieces were going. They did not get us too close to the area where ice breaks off though. We saw many beautiful things including blue ice. We were able to drink directly from the glacier. There are not enough words to describe what we saw at the glacier.

We finally got back to town around 4:30 pm and then we needed to head up the coast to Greymouth for our lodging. One thing about New Zealand is their towns are tiny. You see a town on a map and it ends up being one house. We eventually stopped for dinner at Hotiki as I found a place with gluten free options. We ate dinner, then proceeded onwards to our lodging. We stayed at the Coleraine Motel and it was perfect. We had a two bedroom unit which could have theoretically slept 8 (2 kings and 2 twins). There was one bathroom and a large size living area. But the space was absolutely perfect for us after a long day of activities and traveling.

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Day 20: Queenstown to Franz Josef

Today we were very busy. At the last minute on Tuesday afternoon we decided to book a 4×4 Land Rover tour of Skipper Canyon with the Nomad tour company. The road into Skipper Canyon is one of the most dangerous roads in New Zealand. Rental cars are not allowed on it. The road is very narrow and cliffs are on the side of it. It was hand carved in the late 1800s.
Our tour began at 8:15 which meant we had to get everyone up early since we were checking out that day. We drove to the tour company and were happy to learn that we were the only ones on our tour. The drive down it was very cloudy but when we drove back the fog has mostly lifted. The views were outstanding and the family absolutely loved this adventure. We saw the old town and we even stopped to pan for gold.

Immediately after the tour we started our five hour drive to the Franz Josef Glacier. Originally I had based our day on leaving our rental and driving…I did not know we would be doing the four hour driving tour in the morning. So we started later than I had wanted. I had packed sandwiches and snacks for the car so we did not need to stop for lunch. One place we did have to stop at was Puzzling World in Wanaka. This was the one place Jonas wanted to go to. The interior exhibits were slightly hard for me to enjoy as I am prone to migraines and all of these exhibits had your eyes and mind doing strange things, which I try to avoid. The exterior of the attraction is a giant maze. From the outside the maze does not look for too complex. But I can assure you it is more complex than it looks. It took us 40 minutes to make it through the various objectives and make our way out.

We then continued our drive north. We eventually reached our hotel around 7. We checked in and then decided to eat dinner out. We found a place that Rachel and I could eat at. We enjoyed our meal, then came back to the room. I went to bed EARLY as I went to bed late the night before and had not been able to sleep because I was stressed about checking out on time and making it to our Skippers Canyon tour.
Today was probably our longest day of the trip. The scenery we passed was beautiful. Most of the time we did not have cellular service so it felt a little like the early 2000s. I was navigating with an actual map.

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Day 19: Queenstown

This was a very laid back day. I promised Rachel I would take her shopping, and Jonas was to go with David on a local drive looking for bridges. We all slept in. Then Rachel and I walked into town from our lodging and we bought some souvenirs. Afterwards we had a treat at Patagonia chocolate and then we walked to a playground. The boys picked us up from the playground and we had lunch at the rental.

We relaxed a couple of hours and then at four we headed to the Queenstown Skyline. We took this to the top and then the kids and David did the luge while I relaxed at the mountain top cafe. Then we headed back down he mountain and I made dinner.

Not a very busy day but a much more relaxing day.

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Day 18: Milford Sound

This morning we had a flight-cruise-flight tour booked.  It involved a scenic flight going over the mountains of Fiordland National park and landing in Milford Sound, then boarding a boat for a scenic cruise.  The flight was weather dependent since there had to be few clouds to fly into Milford Sound.

We were unable to fly directly into Milford Sound.  However, the company, Air Milford was able to fly us to their private air strip in Te Anau Downs.  From there, they hired a charter van and took our group of 16 to Milford Sound.  There we boarded a cruise on Southern Discoveries and saw the sound.  It was cold and beautiful.  After that we boarded the van back to our flight and then flew back to Queenstown.

This was an AMAZING experience.  Originally I splurged for the flight because to drive there it would have taken about 5 hours each way from Queenstown.  I did not want a 12 hour day of one activity for the kids.  With the flight alteration, we had about 3 hours driving in total.  So we were able to get back before dark, come back to our rental to relax a little, and then go out to eat.

The drive to Milford Sound was pretty.  It was not as steep as I expected though.  I imagined it would be like driving in Switzerland and driving over mountains.  However, most of the drive is on the valley floor.  One part of the drive goes through a large tunnel.  During the drive you could see the terrain changing, which was pretty interesting.  At one point it was comprised of mostly red beech, but about twenty minutes later it was an entirely different sort of flora.

The van driver spoke to us about the flora and fauna of New Zealand.  We learned about the endangered Kakapo parrot and what was being done to try to bring this endangered species back.  We learned about the non-native predators that ancestors brought to the island – cats, rats, stout, and the possum.  In New Zealand they consider possum to be road bumps. The possum are nocturnal and when they feed they feed on NZ's trees and also their birds.  They are essentially stealing resources from other wildlife.  We learned a little about the kea parrot.  That was one of the highlights for me, seeing this beautiful bird in the wild.  And finally, we also learned about the Southern short-tailed bat and the efforts scientists are going through studying these in Fiordland National park.

The cruise was beautiful.  It was a one hour, forty-five minute cruise.  They provided us with a bag lunch.  This was the best supplied bag lunch I had ever seen.  Each lunch included a sandwich half, cup of soup, apple, kiwi, potato chips, piece of chocolate, water, and a cookie.  It mostly rained during our cruise, but that is typical of the environment here.  We saw some sea lions sleeping on rocks during the cruise.  The funnest part of the cruise was when the skipper drove the boat right up against the waterfall.  The spray was impressive.  I now have no desire to visit Niagara Falls after this experience.  The part I loved about the waterfall was that it is secluded and not just tourist attractions and hotels surrounding it.

We ended our adventure on a return flight back.  On the way back, Jonas acted as co-pilot.  The flight back was equally as beautiful as the flight out there.  This was the New Zealand scenery people imagine.  We saw Lord of the Rings locations.  We saw sheep from above.  We saw mountains, we saw farming land.  We enjoyed great vistas of lakes and streams.  I could have flown from that height all day.  I had thoughts of purchasing my own Cessna 🙂

As I mentioned above, after site seeing we relaxed, and then went out to eat at a pizza restaurant.  We then came back to the rental and relaxed some more, then went to bed.

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