This week we are spending in the city of Hamilton right smack in the middle of the Central North Island. Our first day took us to the Waitomo Caves, located about 1 hour away from our current rental. They were formed by underground streams carving out apertures through the limestone rock. The night before we research all of the tours and decided to do the Aranui Cave and the Glowworm Caves. Since this attraction is pretty popular among tourist and locals, when we got there it was pretty crowded. We took the tour of the Aranui Caves which were spectacular. There is an interesting story associated with this cave - in 1910 a man named Ruruku Aranui was spending a day out hunting. At one point his dog started to chase a pig…Aranui followed his pet and shortly after found him and the pig inside of a unknown cave. It was a very impressive cave with gorgeous pink, white and brown stalactites and stalagmites. Leo and Mila were hoping to find trolls there, hahaha!
Our second tour took us to the Glowworm Cave, which is probably the most popular one. The main attraction of this place were the glowworms attached to the limestone. The tour guide used minimal lights and once he turned them off, we were able to see thousands of glowworm above us - so beautiful and mysterious! The best part of this adventure was a short boat ride leading through the cave. The challenge here was a complete silence and I will happily admit that the four of us managed to stay quite for almost the whole excursion! Towards the end, as we started to approach the exit of the cave Mila started to scream that there was an alligator in the water and he was going to snap snap our hands…her comment definitely lightened everyones’ mood up, haha!
The last part of that day was the Marokopa Waterfall, located about 30 km away from he caves. Originally we were planning on going there and hanging out for a bit at the water, but during the car ride both Leo and Mila passed out…In that case, only Rick walked over and enjoyed this magnificent waterfall…one of the best he’s seen. The ride back home felt like forever! We chose to take an alternate rout and let me tell you, its a miracle none of us threw up. It was probably one of the windiest road we have ever driven but the view made up for the motion sickness!
The weather forecast indicated that Tuesday was supposed to be the nicest day during the entire week. No brainer here, we chose to head to New Zealand’s surf capital - Raglan. We drove about 30 minutes to Manu Bay, which is considered surfers paradise because of perfectly left bank breaking waves. I must admit, I got very jealous when I saw the surfers catching some waves but honestly, the waves were pretty weak. I guess the scenery makes up for the surfing conditions since the whole bay is surrounded by mountains and green valleys. Water was freezing! We did not swim at all, haha! Even sunbathing was out of the questions because there was a bit of chill in the air. Nevertheless, it was pretty cool to watch the surfers and I cannot wait to sign up for surfing classes at our next stop. We also visited Bridal Viel waterfall, one of the largest dropping falls in NZ.
I need to brag a little about Leo - he is the perfect older brother. He has so much compassion and love for Mila. The other day she was crying in the car because she wanted to hold my hand…since I was driving, I could not make it happen. Without hesitation Leo offered to hold her hand and started to sing a polish lullaby to calm her down, so sweet! He always thinks about her and each time he gets a piece of candy, he makes sure to grab an extra one for her. She is a little bossy and very often misbehaves but he always has her back. It’s so neat to watch them play together and strengthen their sibling bond :)
Today was a very special day because it's our Papito Hermie's birthday! It was a fun and very intense day that ended with a little celebration. In the morning we drove 1.5h to a town called Rotorua. It's a very popular place due to its hot springs ( that we did not get to visit, dang!). Our first stop was made at the Blue Lake Reserve. We did a 6 km hike around the lakes. It was so funny because every during our trek we met some Maori's forest workers who were having lunch. Leo was walking by and staring at their food so they offered him a grilled beef and cheese sandwich hahaha. We either look homeless and hungry or just have special skill of attracting super generous people. At one point during the hike we came up to a hill from where we were able to see both lakes, the Blue and Green Lake. It was an Ok view...honestly, the information and pictures in the brochure blew our minds but the reality was a bit different...I guess it was a mini family nature walk.
Right from there we headed over to the Red Woods Park - as the name says, red wood forest with trees planted over 100 years ago. Those trees were huge and simply beautiful. We purchased tickets and did the suspension bridges walk - part of these trees were connected by 20 suspension bridges and you could walk through and enjoy some stunning views. Mila was in heaven, she kept running and jumping ( you are not allowed to do that on the bridge but of course she is not very obedient). We were supposed to stop at one of the local geysers, but both Leo and Mila felt asleep during the car ride so we called it a day and drove back home.
It was time to celebrate Hermie's birthday! Here is what I love about staying at AirBnbs - we are currently tending a cottage, right next to the house of our hosts. Upon our arrival, I mentioned something about Hermie's bday but never paid much attention to it. Here our hosts remembered and they baked a delicious banana chocolate cake! How sweet is that!? I also made a chocolate chip cookie cake and we invited our hosts for the celebration. It was so lovely to talk to them, get to know them a little better and just spent some time together. Believe me, you won't get that type of experience and treatment at any restaurant out there!
Whenever you are in New Zealand on the North Island, you have to make a visit to the Hobbiton movie set. Usually Rick plans all our activities but this one was on me and I did not prepare for it at all. After breakfast, we packed the car and drove to Matamata where the movie set is located. As soon as you get off the main road you are driving on 1200 acres of a farmland that looks like a fairytale. Obviously, in order to see the Hobbiton you need to book a tour - how was I supposed to know that (check the website - duh!)!? Once we arrived there we were informed that all of the tours for today were sold out, well that's a problem (apparently not for me, haha). At first I was mad but I just had this gut feeling that somehow we were going to get in there. I walked over to the lady at the ticket counter and once again asked if she was sure about the tickets being sold out and she confirmed. But, she said that sometimes people cancel or they have no shows and told us to come back in 10 minutes. Surprise surprise! There were four tickets available, hurray! We paid $160 for the two of us and kids were free. The lady also told us that the tour bus leaves in 10 minutes so be there on time. Since our backpack was in the car, Rick went to get it and Mila managed to poop, so she needed a change. We thought we were aware of the time but apparently, the bus left without us, hahaha! I swear, the more we travel the worse we get : ) Luckily, the parking lot was super busy and the bus had to make one more round, see, there is always a bright side :) After 5 minutes we were on the bus and walking into a fairytale land. Believe me, this place was probably one of the most magical in the whole world. Everything looked just like on the movie….the attention to detail was out of this world. Leo and Mila had a blast running around and touching literally everything, haha. They thought the whole set was a playground and I don't blame them one bit. The tour lasted about 2 hrs. We took tons of pictures but each time we tried to snap a family photo, Mila threw a tantrum (at least 20 that day) and Leo was in his own fantasy world. The tour ended with a beer or nonalcoholic drink at the bar. Such an amazing experience that really makes you want to watch all of the Hobbit movies (perfect activity for a rainy day).
Speaking of rain, the last two days brought heavy downpours all day long! Its amazing how lucky we’ve been, 10 months on the road and I think this is the first time since Perigord in France where we had an entire day(s) washed out. Everything looks green and beautiful but you cannot be outside for the obvious reasons. So the next two days we spent doing absolutely nothing. First day was super nice, and we caught up on much needed rest, but after 24 hours the kids & parents got cabin fever! Tomorrow, we’ll drive to the east coast and to Ohope, voted one of New Zealand’s nicest beaches.
Monday morning arrived and once again, we were on a move. This time our road trip was a short one, only 3.5 hours to New Plymouth, located on the west coast of the North Island. Our AirBnB rental was a super charming two bedroom apartment in an old historic building, overlooking the Tasman Sea and Mt Taranaki. Our lovely host Jan welcomed us to her flat and narrowed down all of the local must dos. Since it was close to 3 pm, we decided to grab a bite to eat at a local cafe called Chaos (perfect nickname for Leo and Mila). It has been insanely hot - in the mid 80’s. Living in Florida, we’re used to the heat, but this sun is so strong it honestly doesn’t even compare. There’s no ozone layer here and it’ll only take you 3-4 minutes to get burnt. That evening we chose to take short drive to Paritutu Rock. It’s literally a big rock (154 m elevation) formed by dormant volcano’s. You can climb up ‘The Rock” with the assistance of rails & chains to get a glimpse of Mt Taranaki & the Tasman Sea. The skies were clear so we wanted to get up there and catch a sunset. At the beginning, you walk up steep steps, but the real “fun” begins half way through where you have to hold onto a chain and climb on very uneven and sharp rocks. Leo was leading the whole time and would not let me help him at all, go figure. It was a bit scary as one slip could've created havoc but he just figures it out and gets it done. It’s interesting to watch his personality grow, especially his stubbornness (I wonder where he gets it from?). Once we got to the top, the views were pretty sweet. The panorama stretched from Mt Taranaki (volcano), beautiful sunset over the Tasman Sea and two big rocks called Sugar Loaf Islands. There were a decent amount a folks up there to catch these amazing views and even some kids (albeit a bit older). A nice couple struck up a conversation with us about hiking with kids. They were celebrating their anniversary and had a short break from their kids who were the same age as ours. We immediately felt a connection with them, talking about our World journey, their travel experiences, living abroad (they spent the last 2 years living in Abu Dhabi) and their beautiful New Zealand. Before we knew it, the sun was setting over the sea! It was so nice to share our stories and experiences. It felt as though we knew each other for a very long time : )
The following morning we both decided to go for a run along the water. Our apartment has a perfect location right along a 15km coastal walkway. There was also a playground along the boardwalk so a perfect solution for our whole family. We were supposed to go for a hike but the couple who we met the night before on the rock invited us over to their home for dinner & drinks! Let me tell you something, have you ever met someone and instantly felt a connection (like love at first sight?), well that's exactly how we felt about Kendall, Matt and their two amazing daughters. They are super sweet, nice, funny, hospitable, compassionate, adventurous and the list goes on and on. We spent all evening talking, eating, drinking, laughing and sharing experiences. The kids ran around and played together amazingly. Kendall prepared a delicious meal and served us a local fish called Taranaki. It was without a doubt one of the most magical and unforgettable evenings of our journey and something we will cherish for a very long time. I can't believe that we had to travel all the way to New Zealand to meet our soulmates :-) As we were leaving their home Kendall gifted us a typical New Zealand dessert called Lollicake, which we ate within the next 24 hours (yes we are piggies). It was so nice to be able to relax, share wonderful conversations, and getting to know each other. Kendall and Matt, if you guys are reading this, thank you again and see you somewhere in this beautiful world!
The following day we slept in till almost 9...maybe the wine we drank the night before had something to do with it : ) We started the day very similar, ran on the beach and took the kids to the playground. We decided to head over to Mt Taranaki and do one of many hikes. We chose the Hooker Shed Track which was only 2hrs long and honestly, it was not as spectacular as we expected. The weather changed drastically, as soon as we arrived there the temps were showing only 17 degrees, it was windy, cloudy and grey skies. You could not see the peak of the volcano. We wish we did this hike few days earlier when the weather conditions were more favorable but oh well, it happens. We also stopped at the Dawson Falls and snapped a few pictures.
The next morning we woke up to a crazy rain storm! It was cold, windy and reminded us a bit of a fall day. Kendall and I met at a local coffee shop while Rick and the kids packed and got us ready for another road trip. Kendall is such a lovely woman, she brought for us her favorite sweets from New Zealand, chocolates and other goodies. The next few hours we spent talking about everything literally. I feel so much connection with this girl and it was very hard to say goodbye. It doesn't happen that often that you get to meet people who feel like your soulmates.
On the way to our next house we stopped at Mike's Brewery ( recommended by Kendall and Matt. Matts brother is the actual brewmaster). It's a super cozy place, with lots of character and a great atmosphere. It is kids friendly with plenty of toys and other things to keep the little once occupied while the parents do a tasting. Since it was raining we took our time and did not rush to our final destination...
So let me tell you about our new airbnb rental...it's a true farm house, an 800 acre dairy farm in the middle of nowhere, literally! The house is located 5km off the main road, right at the end of the forest, surrounded by gorgeous mountains and farm land full of cows, sheep and horses. The bathtub is outside in the garden and in order to get the hot water in it, you need to burn some wood underneath it - how cool is that!? I guess we will be taking turn taking our baths in the middle of the New Zealand nature :-) It's a total freedom state of mind, don't judge!
We all slept so good at our farm house. After breakfast Leo and Mila went outside and just enjoyed the big space around them. The owner of the cottage stopped by, brought us some fresh milk and opened the tractor for the kids, haha. She also invited us over so we could watch the process of...milking the cows hahaha. In the afternoon we decided to drive to a place called Three Sisters - beautiful limestone rocks washed up by the shore. However, the night before was the big blue moon and the tide was super high, making it impossible to get to the actual rocks. Since we were out and about, we drove another 30km to Mt Dampsy waterfall. The waterfall was super intense since it rained all day. On the way back home we stopped at the cattle farm and helped milk 160 cows! Boy oh boy, it was quite an experience. The owners are amazing people, explaining the whole process to us. They gave us gumbo boots and it was show time! Rick was the most excited out of the four of us hahaha. I also gave it a try but I will admit, it was not my cup of tea...Towards the end of this task we were all standing in a fenced in area full of cows. Suddenly one of the cows started to poop...what can I say, some of the poop landed on Leo and me! So gross! I guess you could say it was good luck, we were baptized by a cow! It was an interesting experience but I don't think we are cut out for that type of job...
Our last day in Taranaki region we spent in the company of our lovely new friends, Kendall, Matt and their wonderful girls. We drove back to Mikes brewery and had a fantastic time together, once again. The weather was perfect, 75 & sunny, and the kids ran around, climbed the trees, rolled down the hills while the parents enjoyed some delicious beer and interesting conversation. It's amazing how much we have in common. The four of us realized that we are pretty much the same age and so are our children. Our conversation was limitless and we constantly changed topics but there was never an awkward moment of silence. We are forever grateful for our new friendship. I know deep inside that our path will cross again. It was sad to say goodbye but I'm so thankful for our unforgettable encounter on the paritutu rock! On our way back to made a stop at The Three Sister. Leo and Mila were both sleeping so only Rick took a short walk and snapped few pictures.
And just like that another week passed by and it was time to relocate. Our next stop is Hamilton, right in the heart of the North Island. It took us only 2.5 hours to get there from the farm house. Our new AirBnb rental is located on the top of the hill with gorgeous views of the valley and the mountains. We will be staying here for the whole week and the main reason we chose this location was because it has a driving distance to all of the local attractions. Time to hit the sack since we have super intense 6 days ahead of us!
After our short pit stop in Hokitika, we were back on the road to finish our South Island road trip to the city of Nelson. Nelson is the 4th largest city on South Island, and is a gateway to Marlborough Wine Country, Able Tasman National Park, and Marlborough Sounds. Along the way, we drove right up the rest of the west coast and made a stop at Paparoa National Park. Its home to the Pancake Rocks, a group of limestone and mudstone boulders at the edge of the coast and they resemble your breakfast of champions. They kind of reminded us of the Twelve Apostles in Australia, another natural spectacle created over a million years ago. We walked the coastal route and gathered more memorable photos here.
We rarely go out to eat, so this was a treat for us. Rick and I had a glass of wine, the kids were rather well behaved and we enjoyed a delicious meal. We got the kids ice cream for dessert and Mila started to throw her terrible 2s tantrum. We thought it’d be a good idea to grab to-go boxes and the bill but this very kind younger gentlemen came over and asked if he could buy Mila another sweet dish. We agreed and it seemed to calm her down a bit. It allowed Rick & I to finish our meal. We struck up a conversation with these 3 young fellows, he was getting married in 2 weeks back in native India to his childhood sweetheart. You could tell he was glowing when he talked about her. As we said our goodbyes and asked for the check, the manager came out and said the check was being paid for by these guys. What? Are you kidding me? We tried to politely decline but the gentlemen said it was his pleasure to talk with us and share stories. It was such a kind gesture and really put us in good spirits to know how much gratitude there is in this World.
The day next bought rain showers and catch up on laundry. We notified the owner of the issues and had to make a decision whether we were going to suck it up and stay in these conditions for 4 more nights or find another place. One thing about New Zealand, it is expensive. Outside of Switzerland, it is the most expensive place we’ve visited. Hotels easily run in excess of $200/night and most AIRBnbs hover around $100/night so our budget has been tested during our time here. Finding new accommodations at the last minute were going to be a challenge. Rick found a place available for 3 nights in the nearby town of Richmond. We decided it was best to move on. Since we had to suck it up and stay one additional night, and the weather was still rainy, Rick and I got the kids to bed early and completed our first 1000 piece puzzle. It was such a fun experience for us, putting our phones away and working on the puzzle together. It took us well into the night, we stopped at 2am then got up at 7 and finished it around 10.
Travel can test your will from time to time. Here we are, tired, exhausted, completely off balance with our food arrangements and we’re on the move again. We’ve relocated ourselves 4 times in the last 6 days. Fortunately, our kids are amazing, they just seem to go with the flow and get excited about the thought of a new house. We packed up and moved on to our new accommodations in the town of Richmond. The owner refunded us the unused nights as well as the cleaning fee. We arrived around noon and felt more at ease with the new place. We were all starving and luckily there was a farm to table restaurant right across the street from our house. We walked over and sat at an outdoor picnic table to eat. The kids fell in love with the cafe, it had rabbits and a playground. The waitress brought a bunch of food for them to feed the rabbits, they were loving every second of it. Rick and I ordered and had a perfect meal to take our minds off the last 2 days; roasted pork and veggies and feta beet salad. We even splurged with homemade chocolate kaluaha & carrot cake for dessert.
Our original plan for this region was to explore the coastal Able Tasman National Park. There are a ton of coastal hikes, an inland waterfall and some of New Zealand’s best beaches. With our eyes still red from the last few days, we decided it was best to just relax. With the weather perfect, 84 & sunny, we found a beach spot just 30 minutes from our place. There was a huge playground and perfect little spot of the golden sand for us to soak up some sun and let the kids play. We relaxed and reset our minds.
Our last day on the South Island was very pleasant, relaxing and fun. After good workout, we walked over to the Grape Escape Cafe where Leo and Mila were able to play and feed the rabbits again. From there, we walked over to a nearby organic winery - Richmond Pine Wines (located only 200 meters from our house). It was probably one of the best wine tasting we’ve ever had. Not only the wine was excellent but the lady serving us - Angela, was a joy to chat with. She was originally from Milan, Italy and a little over ten years ago, along with her husband, they took a gap year and moved to New Zealand (sounds very familiar - minus the kids). They absolutely fell in love with the land, culture, weather and landscape of this magical country. She said something very interesting - they made a goal to be self-sufficient and created a farm. They own cows, sheep, chickens, olive trees, fruits and veggies. They do not buy anything from the grocery store but rather make it themselves. If they are in need for a particular produce that they do not have, they simply trade with the local community. For example: she traded tomatoes for eggs, homemade cheese for fish, etc. You could sense the happiness beaming from her…although she misses her family and friends in Europe, she loves living in New Zealand. I just love encountering positive and happy people…she was just beaming with life in Kiwiland. It was so refreshing to talk to her and get a different perspective on life. It was a definitely memorable meeting…maybe our house in Nelson was a disappointment but the people we’ve met in this region have been amazing to us. Life is all about peaks and valleys - yes having a moldy house was not pleasant and brought us down a bit, however, receiving genuine gestures from complete strangers was a breath of fresh air and a nice reminder to always look at the bright side.
It was time to say an official goodbye to the South Island…after amazing 4 weeks spent on exploring this part of New Zealand, we were ready to see what the North has to offer. We left Nelson around 9:30 am and drove about two hours to the port city - Picton. We hopped on the ferry along with our car and took the three hour ride to the capitol of New Zealand, Wellington. Overall, it was a fairly smooth trip. The ferry had 8 floors and one of them was designated for kids - playground, movie theater, etc. They also had a magician on board who put on a one hour show for the kids. When we arrived in Wellington the temperature dropped drastically and it drizzled a bit. Our AirBnb rental was located 90 minutes from Wellington, in a little town called Levin. We arrived there pretty late, around 8:30pm. We were greeted by lovely hosts, Mike and Colleen, who showed us our new house and the surroundings. The property is pretty big, little over one acer so plenty of room for Leo and Mila to run around.
The next day we decided to take the kids to probably the biggest playground we have ever seen. It was located right in town and of course both Leo and Mila loved it there. It was more challenging for us because we had to constantly keep an eye on them, trying to track them down. On the way home we stopped by a local blueberry farm called NoHo. We saw a sign that said PYO (pick your own) and wanted to give a try. Here is what I love about it the most…prior to that Leo never liked blueberries, however, since he got to pick them on his own, he is now loving blueberries! Allowing your kids to be part of the experience opens them up to a new world, and in this case, blueberries! We finished this mini adventure with some delicious homemade blueberry and wild berry ice cream; simply amazing! So far on this trip we were able to pick our own strawberries (Germany), lemons (Australia), cherries (New Zealand) and blueberries (New Zealand). We have stayed on many farms and totally love the idea behind it. I don’t think that we will ever have a big farm but we both admit, that once we settle down somewhere, we want to have a property big enough to have chicken, rabbits, fruit and veggie garden. Both Leo and Mila enjoy helping out and I love the idea of having your own grown produce. My father-in-law is a master gardener and his homemade salsas, relishes, and canned tomatoes are the best! Maybe he’ll help us get it started one day (hint - hint).
Without a doubt this week has been tiring, we drove a crazy amount of kilometers, moved what seemed like every other day, and took a 3 hour ferry ride to the North Island. Packing, unpacking, taking care of the kids, preparing meals and managing our life on the road is slowly effecting our energy levels. Also, New Zealand is experiencing a bit of a heat wave, its been crazy hot and staying in homes without AC adds to your fatigue. The kids have had a really difficult time sleeping, it doesn’t get dark until 10:30 and they just seem to kick up an extra level of energy in the evenings. Looking back at the last month, all the hikes, car rides and physical activities, we kind of need to hit the reset button and finish our World journey strong. The thing is, the less you do the more lazy you become. During the days when we have everything planned from morning to the evening, we are super prepared and organized. When we come home and lay down in bed, we are tired but feel a sense of accomplishment. And of course the lazy days make you feel blah. Tomorrow we have another road trip ahead of us to New Plymouth. We are so ready to shake off the tiredness and continue to explore this amazing country. Our future has also moved to the front of our minds. What’s next for us? When you’re on the road for long stretches, it is front and center of our conversations. For the first time in our life, we are ready to “settle down”.
This trip has always been about living our dream, experiencing our World, raising our kids, and building a new network of relationships. This past week, we’ve had some more amazing encounters with people - complete strangers, who reached out their hand to help us or encourage us when we felt exhausted. Sometimes slowing down your World and taking time to appreciate the people in your life is the greatest cure of all. I remember watching a YouTube video, a complete stranger playing his violin in the Washington DC metro during rush hour. Here he was making beautiful music, yet nobody stopped to appreciate. In fact, the only ones who stopped were little kids, until their parents rushed on to get to work. The musician happened to be Joshua Bell, one of the best on the planet who charges $200 ticket to go to his show. In a World that demands you to move faster and work harder, sometimes taking a step back to appreciate it all is the best cure of all.
I know, I know, I keep saying this as we move along in our journey but today was probably one of the biggest highlights of our trip - a day in the Southern Alps and exploring Mount Cook. Although we had another long drive, over 3 hours, it was worth every second of it. The views during the drive were magnificent but the end destination blew us away. We first made a quick stop at Lake Pukaki which was a stunning mirror reflecting the mountains. One hour from there was the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook 3700 meters. We chose the hooker valley track - 11 km round trip to get to Lake Hooker and the base of Mt Cook. The whole trek was pretty easy since it followed a gravel pathway surrounded by amazing glacier mountains, gorgeous hills and a powerful river. My goodness, where do I start. The views were amazing from every angle. While the peak was cloud covered for the majority of our walk to the base, it was splendid from every angle. We reached the lake and had ourselves a picnic, let the kids climb rocks and play, and just took in this perfect landscape. It is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand and we were there on a Sunday so it was a bit crowded. But there seemed to be a bit of respect to the mountain as everyone was very quiet and just enjoying the scene. It felt like something out of a movie.
Mt Cook location
On the way back we decided to stop by the river and admire the spectacular scenery and at one point, when Leo was jumping from rock to rock, his foot slipped and he ended up in the river, hahaha. Poor guy got so scared, he cried a little but Mila told him to shake it off :) As we were leaving the National Park, the clouds parted and we were able to see the one and only, beautiful peaks of Mt Cook. Words cant describe that unreal view, we must have stopped the car 5 times to snap photos so just look at the pictures (honestly, even pictures don't do justice!).
As we were driving back home, we made a quick stop at an Alpine Lavender Farm. It was located right off the main road, in the middle of the mountains! You could smell the lavender as soon as you opened the car door. We bought lavender flavor ice-cream and enjoyed the taste and scent of it! Mila was in heaven, after all our little tomboy loves ice-cream and flowers :)
It is hard to believe that we have been in New Zealand only two weeks and managed to do and see so much. We are once again running at a very fast pace and sometimes, it catches up with us. We’d had some very long car rides and have already driven 2,800kms here. While we are definitely tired and our tank (and budget) is running on empty, moments like this only confirm that this journey was the right decision; we are healthy, young and physically fit to do these things with two little kids, on very limited sleep : ) I really do not think we would be able to explore as much as we have 30 years from now. Therefore, we are so thankful and lucky to live our life to the fullest and get to know this amazing world!
We’re staying in the town of Alexandra, which is at the heart of Central Otago. We chose it since it was budget friendly and there aren’t a lot of AIRBnB rentals in this region. Queenstown, at the heart of exploration, can run upwards for $400, night. Alexandra has a lot of charm, it is an old gold rush town that boomed in the 1800s and now is a popular Holiday destination for its gorges, rivers, water sports, and wineries. In fact, Lonely Planet recently chose Central Otago as one of the top 50 wine destinations in the World! We have perfect views from our house, right across from the river with a mountainous backdrop.
Since the last week was very intense we decided to slow down a bit. In the morning there was no rush and craziness, we took our time with breakfast and instead of getting ready, we watched Moana! I have a feeling our Troll days maybe be fading away :-) In the afternoon we took a one hour drive to beautiful Lake Wanaka. On the way there we stopped at Dam Good Fruit Orchard where we were able to pick our own cherries from the tree. Leo and Mila loved climbing the latter, more than actually collecting the fruit :) Once we got to Wanaka, Leo and Mila ran around the playground for a while, and Rick and I enjoyed gorgeous scenery around us. Our fridge was running empty and instead of cooking dinner we decided to have a small barbecue at the park. We took another 20 min drive to Lake Hawea, another stunning place for the lovers of water sports. We have not had meat in a very long time and I must say that I kinda enjoyed the taste of grilled cheeseburger! Fitness post be damned!
Lake Wanaka Location
The following day we planned on driving to Mt Aspiring National Park and doing another 10k hike to Rob Roy glacier…but…that never happened! We were a bit tired of driving and just decided it’d be best to spend a day hanging out at our house. The truth is that the best way to see New Zealand is by camper van. This country is stunning but its also remote. The distances between different attractions are quite lengthy, plus, there are no 2,3,4 line highways but rather one way in and one way out, so very often you are driving for much longer than expected. Nevertheless, we made it a great family day. Rick went to a local warehouse store and bought a fishing rod! Leo has never been fishing (and neither has city boy Rick) so this was a perfect opportunity, especially since our cabin was right by the river. The other day Leo found a long stick and pretended he was fishing, but now he has a real fishing rod. Although we did not catch any fish and had to use youtube video for some instructions regarding setting up the equipment, it was so much fun! So far, we added a car, immersion blender, yoga mat, christmas tree stand and a fishing rod to our collection :) Hopefully we can fit it all in our two already fully stuffed suitcases. We also caught up with blog work (I’m not charging you to read this yet), naps and homeschooling for Leo. It was definitely a low key day but much needed…
The following day we woke up to grey and rainy sky. Since we already planned on going to Queenstown, after breakfast we packed our crew and headed there. Queenstown is a really cool town, right on lake wakatipu surrounded by The Incredibles. It kinda reminded us of Bergen in Norway. There is a main strip stretched along the water where you can find restaurants, bars, pubs, stores and other goodies. There are boutique hotels and high end stores. The overall vibe was hip, a young crowd, lots of families and people from all around the world. We strolled around for a bit, grabbed a delicious ice-cream at the Patagonia Chocolate Store and visited a local playground. Leo and Mila had a ball chasing birds and running around. In the afternoon we drove to Chard Farm winery, located right across from the world famous bungee jump bridge - Kawarau Bridge. The winery was ok, very busy and kinda small but the views were stunning.
It’s moving day again…after seven days spent in the Central Otago region we were heading towards the north west coast of the South Island. We had a lengthy 7 hours of driving ahead of us, so we decided to break it up with what else, a hike! Once again, we were in awe of stunning views of the west coast…it was a sunny morning with a good visibility, you could see for miles and miles beautiful mountains and mirror like lakes. As soon as we got to the other side of the mountains the landscape drastically changed. It was much more green with a wet tropical climate.
Our first stop was made after about 4.5 hours of driving, at the Fox Glacier. When we got out of the car the temperature showed 12 C, so much cooler, with a drizzle. We got our rain coats out, hats and rain cover for Mila’s carrier and hit the track leading to the glacier. Fox Glacier used to be huge…we saw few signs marking its size and in 1945 the whole pathway leading to the current glacier, used to be the actual Fox Glacier - about 4kms of ice melt in 70 years, crazy! The distance to the glacier from parking lot was about 1.6km with an uphill road for the last 200 meters, so a descent workout for all of us (well, not for Mila, since she has the best seat in the house). Once we got to the top we were about 400 meters away from the glacier - that’s where the viewing point was at. There were tons of warning about not getting too close to the glacier since it can collapse at anytime. It actually move at a rate of 5-8 ft per day. It was a quite cool experience since it was our first time seeing a glacier up close.
Right after Fox Glacier we drove to nearby Lake Matheson, which on a clear day and still mornings, reflects like a mirror Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Unfortunately, once we got to the lake (1.2 km one way), it was cloudy, however, the scenery was still spectacular. What’s even more surprising, the whole pathway leading to the viewing point stretches through a rain forest - you would never expect that in New Zealand. Leo is going to an interesting phase right now…he wants to win every hike/trek that we do (he wants to be first across the finish line). On the way back from the Lake Matheson he literally sprinted! I followed him the whole time but all I could see was his blond her in between bushes moving like a crazy rabbit, haha. Everyone I passed kept telling me that they tried to stop Leo but he told them that he was a winner and could not take a break. If he keeps improving his pace at this rate, we will qualify for the Olympic in 14 years : )
Map of our Road Trip
By 7 pm we made it to a town called Hokitika, located on the west coast of South Island. We rented a house on AirBnb for the next two nights and plan on exploring this area for the next two days. Once again, it was a long day of driving but we were able to break it down a little. Luckily, both Leo and Mila are used to this long road trips and almost never misbehave (ok, so thats a bit of a stretch since MIla is going through her terrible 2 phase) : ) Nevertheless, we were all pretty tired and after some home made chicken soup, the four of us hit the sack…
We diverted our plans for the next day. We were going to drive the Arthur’s pass through the heart of the Alps and hike at AP National Park. But after a full day driving, we decided to explore Hokitika. It’s a small village, right on the Tasman Sea, but it has a nice vibe with restaurants and bars along their main street. We walked to the ocean, and actually met our first Americans in very long time (Thailand?). It was a tour group, mostly of retirees who were on a 17 day NZ adventure. We spent some time talking to a lady from San Francisco, it was nice conversation. After town, we found a playground for the kids. Leo continued his marathon training. Instead of playing at the playground, he ran 3 laps around the track! I’m telling you, future Olympian in the making.
Afternoon naps were in the cards for all of us, then we head to Lake Kanere where there was a singing bridge over a gorge. The walk was only about 15 minutes and gave us a great view of the milky blue waters in the gorge.
Now 3 weeks into our New Zealand adventure, we’ve pretty much covered the entire South Island. It is such a beautiful and diverse piece of land, from picturesque coast views, to stunning mountain backdrops, crystal clear rivers and blue lakes, there’s a bit of adventure everywhere you turn in South Island. I met a woman from Queenstown who says, every time she travels, she marvels at the airplane ride home when she see’s this beautiful land from above. Tomorrow, we’ll drive the rest of the coast all the way up to Nelson where we’ll explore the beautiful Sounds, waterways, and beaches of the northern part of South Island.