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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Day 17: Queenstown

The weather forecast was pretty questionable today…however I had promised the kids I would take them skiing, plus this was the only day we could go skiing.

We caught a bus to Coronet Peak at 8:15. As we were waiting for the bus I rechecked my reservation and realized I had accidentally booked it for tomorrow instead of today. I quickly called the booking agency and they were able to communicate to the driver and get us on the Sunday bus, thankfully…
The bus ended up arriving at the ski mountain slightly after 9. I am glad we took the bus versus David driving us. The road is narrow and most people at this hour were going up the mountain and not down it.
The kids and I rented our ski gear and also ski pants. Then we headed out to the slopes. Jonas agreed to try a full day lesson which was really great for me as then I could devote my attention to Rachel and I did not have to listen to him beg to try a more challenging slope.

Rachel started off doing better than I thought. She insisted on holding on of my poles initially, then she gradually let go towards the bottom of the slope. After our first run we tried the slope on the other side of the lift, thinking it was a green as well….but after we started going down we realized it was a blue. She was still holding my poles and I kept telling her I was making things worse. At one point I had to let go of my poles as it wasn't safe but she was still holding it. She screamed and went barreling down the mountain and she finally fell. At this point she told me she hated me and hated skiing. I asked her if she wanted to stop skiing and she said no. She then asked to go down the beginner slope again….I told her I would only take her if she agreed not to hold my poles.
At this point she finally did great. She was able to snow plow and stay in control. I had kept telling her when we first started that if she did not hold my poles she would have more control.
We stayed in the beginner area the whole time. I had to beg Rachel to let us stop for lunch. She did not want to stop as she wanted to keep skiing. Then when we finally did stop she told me to eat quickly so we could get back out there.

With the weather situation, this could have been an awful day skiing. However, we ended up having all sorts of weather. It was cloudy, foggy, sunny, snowy, rainy, sleeting. You name it, we experienced it there.

Rachel and I stopped skiing at 3. We took off our items and then we ran into Jonas. Jonas was ready to be done at this point as well, which worked out well as we had to catch the bus back to town. As we approached our bus he pointed to a black diamond slope and lamented that he had really wanted to ski something like that and they did not in his lesson. I told him there was no way I would even allow him to ski something like that as he needs to be a strong skier before he tackles a black diamond.

Rachel quickly fell asleep on the bus ride back to town. We ended up getting back to our rental around 5:30. I enjoyed a glass of wine and made an easy pasta dinner for everyone to enjoy. The place was significantly warmer tonight – when we had arrived yesterday it was freezing. But temperatures are much more comfortable at our rental tonight.

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Day 16: Christchurch to Queenstown

This morning we had an 8:30 flight to catch from Christchurch to Dunedin. We had the hotel shuttle bus pick us up at 7 as they were doing major construction near the airport and we had been advised that there could be delays of up to 30 minutes. So we figured delays should still give us an hour to check our luggage and go through security.
We arrived at the bag check and we put our own bags on the belt. Then we proceeded towards security near our gate. Get to our gate and then realize there is actually NO security for certain domestic flights. So, it took us less than five minutes to check our bags and reach our gate. I thought it was hilarious that we kept hearing airport announcements that the Christchurch airport was a safe place…please remember children should not be playing on the escalators.
Our flight was uneventful. They passed out cookies and I asked if they had any gluten free and the flight attendant said no but she did have fudge for Rachel and I. So after she handed out the cookies she came back and gave us some fudge. That was unexpected.
We picked up our rental car and proceeded to drive towards Queenstown. We could have flown to Queenstown but there were some bridges in the east to check out, and this way we did not need to backtrack and we could see if we discovered anything interesting.
We saw a lot of sheep 🙂 Eventually we ended up in the town of Miller's Flat. There we decided to go find Horseshoe Bend and hike to the suspension bridge there. To get there we had to go on a dirt road at parts. At one point there were two rouge sheep. They were very afraid of our car and they eventually scampered up some rocks to get away from us.
We eventually made it to the hike. The sign on the road said it was a fifteen minute walk to the bridge. It would have been a fifteen minute walk to the bridge had there not been sheep poop everywhere. Jonas figured out where the sheep were escaping from. At one point a rogue sheep was right near Rachel and I and feeling very afraid. I was worried I was going to need to protect Rachel but then the sheep went up some rocks to get around us. We continued on the hike and made it to the bridge. The bridge was beautiful and well worth the effort to visit it. It is one of the oldest bridges in New Zealand.

We made it back to the car and this time on our way back to the main road we encountered a group of cows. The cows were also afraid of us and they started to run away. However, they ran in front of us. They ran for about five minutes and then they finally let us pass them.
We continued on our journey towards Queenstown. We stopped at other bridges, or former bridges in Roxburgh, Bannockburn, Alexandra, and Clyde. Then we really headed to Queenstown. We stopped in Frankton for groceries before going to our rental. Frankton seems like it is the town where most residents of the Queenstown area live.

We finally made it to our rental around 6 PM. By this time we were all tired of traveling and we just wanted to relax. I ended up making dinner for us at the rental and then the kids and I went to bed early so we could wake up early the next day.
For those of you that don't know much about Queenstown – it is the resort town in New Zealand that many, many people visit. There are activities year round…it is famous for being the area where bungee jumping was first done.

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