Time for some sweet as Kiwi travel from the 19th of December to the 3rd of January, 2013!!
On the 19th of December, we left you in Sydney after returning our rental car/tent and heading to the airport. We arrived at the airport checked in and were glad to be on our way to Queenstown, NZ…or so we thought. We landed at midnight in Christchurch for our layover and had 8 hours to relax since Queenstown is a daylight only airport due to the huge mountains that surround it. We slept for a bit waiting for the check-in desks to open at 5 am and noticed that our flight was not listed on the departure board, but we figured to had just been moved to a later time that morning…no worries right? Well come 5 and Sam went and talked to the jet star agent and was told that jet star no longer flys to Queenstown anymore and that Casey at STA had been notified in September, well no one told us anything…thanks Casey….we were given the option of taking a twenty one dollar refund and trying our best luck to pay three hundred on Air New Zealand or hopping that their standby might get us there by the next day or being rerouted through Auckland or Wellington. After getting in touch with STA and being told they could do nothing we opted for the Auckland choice since it got us to Queenstown before any of the others, though that we still had to fight for since they wanted to put us on a much later fight. The new issue after dealing with all that at five in the morning was how to get word to Sam’s parents who were expecting us at the airport at nine though now it would be more like eleven. We called the hotel upon landing in Auckland to no avail, but left a message hoped for the best and ran for the gate. After arriving in Queenstown,exhausted and hoping to get a nap we saw no sign of the Garsons, we wandered around and started looking for a place to get change to call the hotel again, just as Sam was about to get change Dan and Deborah found us! All had worked out in the end. They had come to the airport and waited then come back to the hotel and gotten our message. We happily piled into the rental car and headed back to the hotel where Sam and Kailey took a much needed nap and got ready to explore the South Island with their new traveling companions. All in all it had taken over 24 hours to fly from Sydney to Queenstown….longer than it took us to fly from Seattle to Iceland or St. Petersburg to Bali.
Queenstown is a nice town on the end of a long glacier fed lake surrounded by high mountains on all sides. Some of the mountains still have snow on the tops and it was beautiful to see such a contrast in land compared to what we had been seeing in Australia. We spent the days walking around with Sam’s parents (Dan and Deborah) and enjoying the sights. On our first night there after our much needed nap we all went to dinner and then to see the Hobbit. It was a good movie, but none of us realized that it was a trilogy until 3hrs had passed and they still had not made it to “the door”. Maybe we will see the others in New Zealand too… We went to a few local wineries and ate at a beautiful one for lunch that served all local and when possible organic foods. After lunch we stopped by a few other local wineries and tasted some of the wine. The next day we went out to Mt. Aspiring and Lake Wanaka which are as equally as beautiful as Queenstown (Kailey could live there). In the early evening as the sun was not setting until after 10pm Sam and I went to the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown and got our wildlife experience on, seeing Kiwis, Keas and many other New Zealand birds. Kailey had a goal to see a Kakapo, but they are so endangered that it was most likely not going to happen (We recommend YouTubing that one, there are some good videos out there with at least one that is not kid appropriate involving the famous Siscero giving a photographer some “special attention,” but it is rather funny too :-) ). The next morning we woke up, packed our stuff and hit the road to Franz Joseph. We stopped again in Wanaka for a delicious breakfast and stopped at a great local craft fair. Then it was on the road again to the glacier!
We spent 2(?) nights here one of which included Christmas Eve. Experiencing the major holidays where the sun doesn’t set until 10:30 and it is in the 90′s temperature-wise was new for us all. It was nice to be able to spend the holidays in the sun and even Christmas Day on the beach (Kailey loved standing on the beach under a waterfall that hit the sand and rolled down into the surf). Since we were in Franz Joseph we also visited the glaciers. We could see Franz Joseph from where we were staying, but decided to hike as close as we could to Fox Glacier after taking a relaxing stroll around a reflection lake. Fox Glacier was awesome to see and we were probably within 75 meters from the face of it behind the safety fencing. We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at the local resturant called Alice Mays where Sam enjoyed his new found favorite dessert (he discovered this in the UK) Sticky Toffee Pudding. If you really want to cook him something… let it be this and you will be a good friend for a long time. We hit the road on Christmas Day, saying goodbye to our lodging host Jo (She’s pretty awesome) who was making sure to wish everyone a HAPPY CHRISTMAS :-).
We drove up the coast to Punakaiki known for it’s Pancake Rock Stacks. On our way we went through the sleepy town of Hotikpi (A side note of our trip was that we hit many of the holidays where things were closed the day of and often the day after) where the Jade shop was open and we went in to see all the beautiful things carved out of jade and other stones from the area. Kailey replaced her standard jade necklace she wears with a back up since she occasionally breaks them on tile floors. We stopped at the pancake rocks for lunch and had a picnic in the sun. Kailey met her new dream ducks (Wekas) that she plans on having on her own farm and we learned that Ice Coffee is not quite Iced Coffee as it was in Australia (this contraption involves an espresso shot poured over an ice cream sunday). The rocks were fun to walk around as they had a boardwalk set up and we even saw the elusive Hectors Dolphins swimming around them, thanks to some fellow Americans from Indiana who pointed them out. At Punakaiki we stayed at some pretty hippie cabins in the rainforest, but they were cool in their own way. After spending the end of Christmas Day on the beach (insert Kailey’s waterfall story from above here) we had dinner at the Punakaiki pub, only place open in town, before retiring for the night with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.
Good Morning Boxing Day… yes another holiday while traveling and yet again most things were closed. We were off to spend a couple days in Nelson, a stop Sam had experienced before when he was in New Zealand a few years prior with his brother. We stayed a little bit outside of town at the edge of wine country. We planned on spending one of the days touring wine country and the other half day kayaking Abel Tasman national park. The winery tours (we think we visited four) were a good introductory to what New Zealand has to offer. Our favorite location-wise was the one with the tasting room/cellar on top of a hill, but it was also in the hill to fit the landscape. Kayaking was fun too as Abel Tasman is this huge national park. We got to hear and see birds, New Zealand fur seals, a few fairy penguins and our guide was awesome. He was an environmental scientist with ornithology training and going back to school for his teaching degree. Sam and I may have nerded out with him a bit. We also won all the hit the buoy challenges with our excellent navigation skills. We had several good meals in Nelson, one at Hop Goods and the others at Cafe Affair. Hop Goods was recommended by Sam and his brother from their previous trip and it was delicious. Sam’S mom acquired her own “precious” after the original jeweler’s shop spoke to Sam and Kailey about picking one up. Those hobbits know what’s good! On our way out of town we also spent the morning at the farmers market where we all got some awesome New Zealand souvenirs.
Blenheim is the center of Marlborough wine country and we took full advantage. The first day there, we did some research and checked out the town. After some grocery shopping, we bought dinner and cooked a grilled meal that was highlighted by some excellent local lamb sausages (Sam had recovered from the farm and was willing to eat lamb again…Kailey not so much). Sam had been to this area for a wine tour with Matt (brother) last time they were here and remembered one particular winery that was amazing. We planned out our route for the next day and got to bed early. The next day the weather was partly cloudly but cleared up as the day went on. The area is grape vines for as far as the eye can see and we drove through all of it. All told we eneded up visiting 7 winieries in the course of the day with a delicious stop for lunch at one that was highly recommended. Dan (Sam’s dad) bought his fair share of wine (translated: as much as he could legally bring back to the US) and Sam bought a few bottles for Matt as he had really wanted some bottles last time we were here, but ended up not getting any due to luggage space. After a very long day we returned home and relaxed, had leftovers from the night before mixed into some pasta and then happily fell asleep. The next day we woke up had a leisurly breakfast and made our way out to Kaikoura.
We only spent one night here, but we enjoyed the time we did spend here. Since it was New Years Eve we had a lovely family dinner at the White Morph after spending the afternoon walking a nearby hillside/seagull colony and seal haul out area. The town of Kaikoura is rather small and was full of holiday tourist as to be expected. We did not stay up to watch fireworks as there were no festivities to ring in the New Year and Sam and I were on a 7am whale watch trip to see some sperm whales.
Whale watching on Kaikoura whale watch was fun and interesting coming from a whale watching mecca. There is only one tour company and they have probably 5 boats. Their boats are the kind that you ride inside while they are driving to the location of possible whales, then you get to go out on deck and look around etc. We were super fortunate on our trip that we got to see 5 sperm whales, they are all males in this area as they are just passing through and feeding in the deep canyon that is right offshore. According to the boat crew, we were forunate to see 5 sperm whales as most people only get to see one or two and we were also lucky as we only were out about 1 mile from shore. Some days they have to go 12 miles offshore in order to see anything. We also saw the fur seals again, a few fairy penguins, and a whole school of dusky dolphins. Don’t worry we got it all on video and in piture :-) Check out our photo album!
Getting to Akaroa is half the fun of the town, it is nestled at the base of some very large mountains that require some very long windy roads in order to reach. On the way there it was a roller coaster ride to arrive. Once in town we found our awesome bungalow perched up on the hillside over looking the town and settled in. We popped into town for some dinner and to check out this famed French town on the eastern coast of New Zealand. The town is very small but overlooks a beautiful bay. We had an easy dinner at a local pub that was extremely surprising with how delicious it was. The next day came into town to try and find some french pastries, which since the town is famed for being French we knew we would find easily….sadly we were mistaken as the town is really only French in name, the pastry and coffee selections were less than ideal (a letter is currently being written to the French government as they take affronts to their culture very seriously and we expect this issue to be rectified within the month :-) ). After a quick breakfast and seeing the arrival of 1000′s of tourists from a Princess Cruise ship we went the other direction and out of town. That night we had reservations at The Petite Bistro which was supposedly the best meal in town. After a great day of driving up and down the lake district and towns along the water we came back to our bunglaow, rested a bit and then headed into town for dinner. Dinner it turns out is where this place shines, the Petite Bistro was amazing. The food was superb and dessert was great, it was a perfect meal to end our trip on. That night we got ready for a good rest and quiet evening of packing up our lives to head back to America.
Nature however had other plans as a massive thunder and wind storm smashed through the countryside. We heard trees snapping, wind rattling everything and half expected the house to lift off the ground. The next morning on the drive out we saw the aftermath as livestock was walking the road due to fences being smashed by trees, limbs were down everywhere, and it looked like a hurricane had struck. On our windy way back up the hills out of town, Kailey made sure to alert someone about the cows and sheep that were loose on the roads so that they could find their way back home before being hit by a car :-).
Arriving at the Christchurch airport was extremely surreal as we got our bags checked and prepared to board our flights back to the US. It took a bit of arguing to get our bags checked through since Air New Zealand had no idea how to handle an extra bag that was being then handled by Air Tahiti and wanted to charge a ridiculous amount, but that got resolved and we were on our way. Tahiti was weird as we got off the plane went through security (who made us dump our water that we had gotten on the plane so we wouldn’t bring it back on the plane?) and duty free, then hung out for an hour before getting back on the same plane into the same seats. There were even dancers and musicians welcoming us all to paradise as we were herded into lines. You were welcomed to come up and take pictures with it all as you wished. It was just odd for 11pm at night and the act was obviously paid by the airport.
Landing in L.A. was a good surreal feeling especially when we had to tell customs where we had been and for how long we had been gone. We spent four days acclimating to American life, cooler temperatures and visiting with Chris (Sam’s friend from college) and Brittany (his sig fig) who gave us the grand tour. We also spent some quality time with Greg (Sam’s other college friend) and even had an awesome dinner at the italian restaurant he works at. Lastly, we took one day for ourselves (for Kailey) and went to Disneyland and California Adventures. It was a long fun day, but worth it! Kailey even met up with her ballet teacher and his family who were on vacation there.
On January 8th we flew home to Seattle and were glad to be home and to see our family, friends and pets, It was cold and quite the adjustment to move back into our house joining society and jobs once again.
The journey has ended, but it was an awesome experience and we hope to continue to travel in the future. Thanks to everyone for reading our blog and keeping tabs with us as we traveled the world. We have finally updated our google map under MAP to include all the places we went. Enjoy the New Year. We look forward to seeing most of you in person throughout the days to come!
~K. and Sam