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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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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Day 15: Christchurch

We started our day a little late. My husband had conference calls in the middle of the night and once he was done he realized Rachel was still up at 2:30 AM. Granted, New Zealand is two hours ahead of Australia time wise.
Our first stop was to find breakfast. Everywhere we go I google gluten free bakery. I was thrilled to find one wth a large selection eleven minutes from our hotel. I could have purchased the whole shop. I ended up buying a pain au chocolate, something I thought I would never get to eat again. I also purchased a cinnamon roll, croissant, cheese rolls, and chocolate chip cookies. The others made purchases as well and we ended up eating breakfast in the car.
Next we headed to our first stop of the day – a suspension bridge in Pegasus. One of the big reasons we planned our trip was to see suspension bridges in New Zealand. In fact, the trip originally started out as just a trip to New Zealand….but since we were so close to Australia, and needed to connect through there we added that in as well.
We saw that bridge and then headed to our next bridge of the day – a bridge in the Hurunui area. This was a much more scenic bridge and it seemed to be everyone's favorite of the day.

Following that we did a small track (hike) near the beach, and then we headed back towards Christchurch, stopping at two smaller bridges along the way.
Observations so far: they do have a lot of sheep. Once we were out of the city area we could not drive very far without encountering sheep. In fact to start our track we had to hop over a livestock fence.

Scenery wise – in the distance I can see tall mountains, and that reminds me of Colorado. The foothills around us remind me of California if they had green foothills. The coast that we have seen so far is rugged.
We drove through downtown Christchurch on our way back to the hotel. Downtown is a lot of new buildings. It is hard to believe that the major earthquake was just six years ago. I have noticed that most homes are single storied, and there are not a lot of super tall office buildings.
We got back to the hotel a little after six and the kids got changed into their suits and we went to the hotel pool and hottie. After swimming we then had dinner at the hotel.
So far this has been a wonderful vacation…knock-on-wood. The kids are mostly entertaining each other. We are doing things together as a family. The kids are asking lots of questions everywhere we go.

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Day 14: Travel to Christchurch

Nothing exciting today – we are flying from Cairns to Christchurch, connecting thru Brisbane.

When we returned our rental car, the family next to us turned out to be from Vienna, about fifteen minutes away from us. What are the odds of that – being all the way on the other side of the world and having people who live near us next to us? I am sure if we spoke to them long enough we could find a mutual connection between us.

Then, in the Cairns airport we ran into people from our snorkeling adventure. Rachel thought this was pretty funny and she told David and Jonas that mommy ran into her new friends.

Our flight to Brisbane was uneventful. We had to transfer between the domestic and international terminal which meant going through security again. Even with the recent Sydney news, security is not like it is in the US. There are varying levels of security depending if you are flying domestic or international.

We flew Air New Zealand from Brisbane to Christchurch. The service was very good and they even had gluten free meals for Rachel and I. There was in-flight entertainment. My only complaint was the seats were very tightly crammed in. I felt very claustrophobic. I may have to start getting aisle seats and putting the kids in the middle…the past flights we have let the kids have the window seats and we take the middle seats.

Since I really have no pictures from today, here are some pictures of our rental. Apologies of the mess, I took them after we checked in….

We stayed in a two bedroom villa at the Sheraton Mirage. It was awesome. There were essentially three outdoor areas – one right when you come in, one off the family room, and a porch off the master bedroom. Kitchen had all the items one could need. Space was large enough that we did not feel on top of each other. These next two nights though we go to a one room hotel room so that will not be fun.
Our villa was also close to the hotel pool. This was a massive pool and the kids enjoyed swimming in it.

UPDATE: We have now checked into our Christchurch lodging which is at the Commodore hotel. We are not staying at the main hotel. I was expecting a dinky little motel room when they drove us to our location down the street. It's a three bedroom, two bath house! I cannot believe our luck. I was preparing for a one room two-bed hotel room with all of us on top of each other. They also gave us a credit to spend at their restaurant since we are not at the main hotel.

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