We are lost in translation! Let’s rewind a bit…we spent an amazing New Year’s Eve in downtown Sydney. As you know, we are the first to celebrate NYE around the Globe and Sydney puts on the World’s most magnificent fireworks display. They are so good at it they put on 2 shows. One at 9pm for those like us with kids who stand little of chance to make it to midnight, and of course the big show to ring in the New Year. We took a train to the Central Sydney and headed towards at park on the east shore facing the Harbor bridge. It was a perfect park, not too crowded, lots of families, and literally one big tailgate party - minus the alcohol. The firework display was spectacular. We really wanted to push our limits and stay until midnight but our logical senses took over, we after all had a flight out at 6am the next morning. We were home right before midnight, just in time to have a toast, share a kiss and say goodbye to an amazing 2017. We hit the sack and woke up early to catch our flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. And here is the confusion…we’re now 18 hours ahead of East Coast of USA. We already welcomed 2018 in Sydney, boarded a plane and arrived in New Zealand. Our friends and family in Europe were about to celebrate NYE while everyone in the USA was waking up on the last day of 2017 - are you lost yet??!!! It was one of the most bizarre moment of our lives, hahaha! By the time the Ball dropped in NYC, we were sitting down to our January 1st dinner in Christchurch!
Welp, where do we start. 2018 stared a bit crazy for us . . . we were up at 4am, out the door by 5:30am, dropped of our rental car, and navigated through gigantic Sydney airport to find Emirates Airlines and our flight to NZ. Prior to departure we did plenty of research regarding visa and other requirements for entering New Zealand. We thought we were well prepared but as it turned out, we were wrong...during our check-in process the flight assistant at Emirates informed us that in order grant our tickets, we needed to show her a ticket with a departure out of New Zealand??!! First of all, we did not have anything booked after New Zealand because we are still deciding on our options. Secondly, she told us we had 45 minutes to book an outbound flight from New Zealand otherwise, we would not be able to board the airplane!!! Hello 2018, it's nice to meet you too. We were both shocked, surprised, sleep deprived, and had 2 kids running around the airport like maniacs. If we were sleeping on the way to the airport, we were up now! We had to quickly come up with a solution and it ended up being a flight to Fiji. It was the cheapest flight we could find on such short notice (more on this one later). We were able to board the plane and get ready for 3 beautiful months in New Zealand.
Well if you thought our drama was over for the day you’d be wrong. That was first bucket of cold water dropped on us. After 3.5 hour flight, we safely landed in Christchurch. We breezed through passport control, collected our luggage and headed towards sector "nothing to declare". We threw away all of the fresh fruit in our carry on, since you are not allowed to bring it into the Country. We were made aware multiple times by security to make sure you had no produce, meats, seafoods, etc on us. And here we experienced another bucket of cold water...at Sydney airport we bought a small fruit salad. We packed it away in a plastic bag in Leo’s carry on and completely forgot about it. As we were about to leave the airport, an officer came to us with a dog, who sniffed the fruit salad. As you imagine, we were taken to the side and questioned about our nothing to declare forms. Long story short, we had to pay a penalty of $400 New Zealand dollars ($300US). Talk about a rude awakening to 2018! It clearly was not our best day but hey, that's a part of travel experience.
We absolutely love our Christchurch AirBnB rental. The house is spacious, with 4 gorgeous bedroom, each one of them with a fire place, two big bathroom, brand new kitchen and amazing living area. It’s an older home with tons of character and uniqueness. It’s located only 1 mile from the city center. Since we need a car for the next 3 months and rentals are quite expensive, we decided it would be best to buy a car and at the end of our New Zealand adventure, we would sell it. Rick spent the next day and a half searching for the right vehicle and finally bought a 2006 Toyota Wish (never heard of this model but it’s a station wagon. It’s the perfect Hermanwagon for the next 3 months. It’s not Euro Vacation or Christmas Vacation but if they ever want to make a movie. . .Kiwi Vacation, we’d be the perfect fit : )
In February 2011, Christchurch was severely damages by 6.3 magnitude earthquake. They were then hit again in March 2017. Many noticeable Christchurch historic landmarks suffered extensive damages and still are closed. The most well known Christchurch Cathedral resembles a ruin. It used to be a beautiful historic church at the middle of the city and now is all fenced off and most likely, a new church will be built. We were in complete shock by the devastation. There are empty city blocks with huge holes, construction cranes starting a new, and scaffoldings to support the old buildings. It looks like a bomb was dropped and now it’s clean up time. What is kinda surprising is the fact that it has been almost 7 years and progress is noticeable but there’s still a long was to go. The city seems to be looking for an identity, hold onto the old historic past or start fresh with a retro modern look. There are parts of town that are rebuilt and look super hip and trendy, but the historic center is a ruin. We cannot even imagine what was happening here on February 22, 2011…we noticed plenty of new projects showing the new architecture of Christchurch and we do believe that once its done, it will be a cool, fun and hip city. The question is how long?
Our first exploration of New Zealand took us south of Christchurch to Pigeon Bay. It was about 1.5 h drive from our house and the drive itself was very interesting. For a while we followed a paved road but as our GPS announced to turn right, we were on the side of the mountain driving on a dirt road…the ride was bumpy and very dusty but the views were out of this world. Gorgeous hills, beautiful blue water in the bay, and a fresh crisp air. When we arrived at Pigeon Bay, we decide to do the coastal walk along the bay to the Pacific Ocean. The total walk was about 14 km and we did about 8km of it. The weather was perfect, blue sky with little cloud coverage and super hot sun. The sun here is much stronger than anywhere we have ever been. As we hiked along the coastline we passed tons of sheep and cows, who freaked us out! At one point we almost started to run since one of them stood up and started his bull charge towards us, hahaha. It was a fun day spent in the nature and it gave us a good taste for beauty of this amazing country.
Our time in Christchurch came to an end and it was time to hit the road; our next stop, charming Dunedin. The total drive time to Dunedin was about 5 hrs. We were warned at the airport that the policy is pretty strict here, even when it comes to speed limits so we made sure not to go over even 1km. After about 3.5 hours of driving we made a stop at the Moeraki Boulders - unusually large and spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave-cut Otago coast of New Zealand. We strolled around for a bit, let Leo and Mila climb the rocks and when it started to drizzle, we went up to the local restaurant for a bite to eat. We enjoyed beautiful views of the sea over our late lunch. We arrived in Dunedin to our AirBnB rental. Small but cozy; a perfect pit to explore Dunedin and surroundings.
Our first night in Dunedin was a bit rough. Mila has some type of virus, keeps coughing and runs a small fever. She could not sleep all night and we did not either. The good thing is that she still is wild and crazy so her sickness can't be that bad :-) After breakfast we drove to a little Sunday market. We were able to buy some fresh produce, local raw honey (great natural remedy for fevers) and a few other local items. Then we headed to central Dunedin and strolled around this charming town. It reminds us a little of an old European town as it closely resembles the Scottish town of Edinburgh. The city has tons of character, historic buildings, and overall a very good vibe. The weather was perfect, sunny in the upper 60s, so we tried to make the best out of it. We strolled through the train station, went to St Mary’s church, pasted trough the University of Otago, and finished the day grocery shopping. As soon as you enter NZ grocery stores, you will find a basket filled with apples, bananas and peaches. This fruit is for children! What a great idea, right!? Instead of buying your kids candy or other processed food, you can grab a piece of fruit for your child. I absolutely love it! I guess it's very similar to Publix bakery and the free cookies but I must say, I much rather prefer the fresh fruit option :-)
Our last day in Dunedin, we spent exploring the Otago Peninsula, which was located only 25 min drive from our house. Originally, the day started a bit cloudy and grey but by 11 am it was sunny and blue skies. First we chose to visit the local beach which was absolutely stunning. Hidden in the bay, surrounded by huge sand dunes and gorgeous green hills - a picture perfect place. We read that very often you can spot sea lions but we did not think we will be that lucky…but we were! We walked down the pathway towards the beach and as soon as we got to the beach, we were greeted by a sea lion! How cool is that? He was wiggling his way back to the ocean. We have never seen a sea lion this close and it was definitely one of the coolest experiences ever. For the next hour we simply enjoyed this magical place. We all tumbled down the huge sand dunes, jumped around and spotted many more sea lions and admired the amazing nature of New Zealand. After a picnic on the beach, we headed back to the car…it was quite the workout climbing to the top on a super sandy pathway…
Second part of the day we spent hiking though the Sandymount track. It was only 15 minutes away and took us to the edge of the peninsula. The total trek was about 3.5km long so nothing too crazy. As soon as we started this trek, we walked through a very cool pathway of gorgeous trees. Once we passed the trees, we were out in the amazingly wild beauty of New Zealand. I cannot even put in the words and describe the views we saw. Amazing turquoise water, green hills full of sheep, ridged cliffs and the freshest air on this planet. We have seen so many breath taking places during our adventure but I have a feeling that New Zealand will completely blow us away…well, in already has. The fact that there was nobody else there was pretty special. Each time we turned our heads, we saw something more spectacular. Leo has so much fun running in between the bushes, spotting sheep and just enjoying everything that was in front of him.
I remember as a child playing this memory card game where you had to put a world map together. Back then I knew so little about New Zealand…it seemed so far away, a place that only the luckiest one will have a chance to visit. And here we are, on the edge of this amazing country, hanging out with sea lions, walking through hills full of sheep and admiring the most beautiful views this world has to offer…kinda wish we could freeze this moment forever!