Singapore Revisited and Current Life in NC

So right now, I am sitting in an apartment in Chapel Hill, NC, and we are getting ready to close on our own place a week from today.  I can’t believe how much has changed in the last few months.  We got to the States back in early May, visited Jen and Paul in San Francisco, went over to visit Wendi and Ryan a few hours away, traveled through Tahoe, Reno, and then on to Utah and Yellowstone, and then on to Colorado.  We got to see Dan’s Aunt Linda and Uncle Gray, also caught up with his cousins Zach and Chris and their wives, and almost moved to Fort Collins!  We decided to move back to (a different part of) North Carolina to be close to family, close to old friends, closer to the sea, and to be back in an area where it is less expensive to live.  Of course, as it turns out, we did choose one of the most expensive NC towns–but it’s all relative, right?  So what if our Carrboro/Chapel Hill property tax rate is 1.67%!  (At least the public schools are good!)

Anyway, after Colorado, we decided to go see Mount Rushmore up in S.D. before heading backwards to visit the Moseleys (on SV Widago) in Driggs, Idaho.  After that, we did another quick trip through Yellowstone, and headed east.  We stopped in St. Louis and a quick trip to Nashville (really seeing nothing), but mostly it was hightailing it to NC.

Try picking a place to live out of the blue!  Most people don’t have that opportunity (or curse, depending on how you look at it).  If you have the choice of anywhere, you want anywhere to be perfect.  Not perfect, but perfect for you.  That was a hard decision.  It came down to reassessing what we were looking for and we ended up in our current area.  We almost considered moving to Charlottesville, but I’m glad we opted to stay in NC given the recent events there.  We wouldn’t have much in the way of patience for hate groups and whatnot.

So here we are.  The kids start a brick and mortar school in less than two weeks.  I will be back to work soon, with jury selections scheduled.  Despite what you might think, I am actually looking forward to it!  Dan has applied for a half-time contractual position.  We are getting sucked back in to land life and the tentacles are not stopping anytime soon!  😉  Just so everyone knows, you spend a lot less money living out in the world compared to here in the U.S.  We had no cars, no car insurance, no pay cell phones, no power bills, no use for furniture, and no brainwashing to buy, buy, buy material goods (e.g, fidget spinners?  Is it just me or are those the stupidest things ever?).  Being back is bittersweet.  Poor Dan is ready to head back out.

I need to update our time in SE Asia.  We had some great and strange experiences, and two months living like true vagabonds with just a backpack, really did get tiring.  I think all of us were done with SE Asia, but, I have to say, I wouldn’t have necessarily been done with traveling.  South America?  Sure!  Europe?  Absolutely up for it!  Africa?  Bring it on!  But, we decided after selling the boat that we would give the kids a more traditional life until they get through with high school.  For all of you wondering, that’s six more years.  Six more years.  In the grand scheme of things, that’s not that long, right?  Here is the first post about Asia. I really hope I can remember some of the details!  I guess the details don’t matter much anyway.  It really is more important to have an overall impression of a place, or the human interest stories that stay with you for a lifetime–those are what matters.  I will have those tidbits in here, although those won’t be in this post because Singapore really wasn’t that kind of place.  It was city-like and not too different from a city in the U.S. in many ways.  The next post about Malaysia will be more unique.  We had the most eye-opening experience there, one that made me realize that the vast majority of places in the world contain generally good people.  We also were able to visit Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, and again, we had some stories…stay tuned!

Finally, Singapore…

We spent only four nights in Singapore, which was such an organized, fairly clean city.  It was a bit surreal taking the subway so much.  Looking around, EVERYONE was on a cell phone, mindlessly searching and searching, and it reminded me of a bunch of robots going about their same routine day in and day out.  After so much travel to remote places and to wide-open, outdoorsy New Zealand, this was so very depressing.  It was like living in the Lego Movie.  Eye-opening, and not much different from the States, sadly.

Other than that, Singapore had some very beautiful places!  Marina Bay Sands Towers, beautiful Chinatown, temples, and double-decker buses (Ryan really liked these.)  Oh, and there was also a crazy, floating baby.

We took a tour with a tour guide, walked through gardens, went to Universal Studios Singapore, and generally enjoyed being in a crazy city for a few days.  What we didn’t realize at the time was that Singapore was like “Asia light.”  It was more metropolitan, more wealthy, less dirty, and the least shocking way to enter SE Asia after being in the beauty of New Zealand for 3.5 months.

Riding the Subway.  At least we had seats on this ride…

The Towers–Very unique buildings!  There is a big greenway at the top.  

The park near the Towers

Beautiful fake tree art in the park

He’s a beauty, isn’t he?

We went all the way up…sort of.

Our tour guide through Singapore

He said the government actually contacted single men within a certain age range to encourage them to go to these dating events.  Apparently, the marriage rate among young men is decreasing rapidly, and the government is worried…

A temple

Another temple

Raffles–Singapore Slings

Front seat of the second floor, double decker bus

Very strange floating baby statue.

Many of the residences in Singapore are government-subsidized.  They are not like in the States though, because these are very desirable communities in Singapore.  Each large building must contain a certain portion of each ethnicity, and there are tons of food stalls in the bottom floors of these buildings.  Most people don’t bother to cook at all, because you can eat for so little money.  In fact, one of the food stalls actually received a Michelin Star!  We didn’t eat at that particular one because the line is always out of control, but we did manage to have Chef Gordon Ramsey’s recommendation of “Hainanese Chicken Rice” from this one particular place.  The kids really liked it; Dan and I added a lot of spice.

Gordon Ramsey’s recommendation.  This place has a lot of people in line most of the time.  It was quite tender chicken.  Ariana looks enthralled, doesn’t see?

Smaller than our theme park, but still pretty good after being off the grid for so long!  The kids didn’t even know it was there.  Actually, neither did I, but our good friend Steve on S/V “Nina” told us the park was in Singapore.  We surprised the kids, telling them the day before that we were going.

Okay, I promise Malaysia will include more thoughtful posting!  Malaysia was QUITE different from Singapore, that’s for sure!

Ho Chi Minh

It has been two months of non-stop travel through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I have a lot to write to catch up but we have only a cell phone and an old iPad with us; the computers are sitting at our friends’ (Jen and Paul) house in S.F. We are flying back to the States in two days! We are going to be traveling through some of the U.S. west in an effort to find a new place to call home for a handful of years. Stay tuned!!

A Hike to Mueller’s Hut, Mount Cook, South Island

 

As a write this, it has been three days since we finished our hike to Mueller’s Hut.  (Note:  I am STILL sore from this hike!!!)  It was the most gorgeous weather we could have imagined.  Mount Cook is so variable, but we had nothing but sunny skies and warm temperatures (until late at night, at Mueller’s Alpine Hut, when it dropped to six celsius).  This was our view upon arrival into Glentanner…

Sunset on Mount Cook

The night before the hike, we stayed in a glorified campground room with bunk beds.  There was very little left in the way of accommodations in Mount Cook or nearby (in Glentanner) but we were able to find this for the low, low price of $140 NZ.  It was a room, with no towels, and only two comforters for the four of us, and NO bathroom.  We had to walk outside with a torch at night to go to the restroom.  I am not used to that.  When you know you have to get up and go outside to walk to the bathroom facilities, it suddenly makes you need to go all the time!  Okay, maybe that was just for Ariana, who actually did get up in the middle of the night despite the fact she hardly ever does in a house-bed.  I can’t imagine being elderly and needing to leave the room and walk into the cold every time I had to pee!  Anyway, great views here, but I sure was glad it was for only one night!

 

The next morning, we set out for Mount Cook to register with the Department of Conservation re: our hike.  We had reserved four beds at Mueller’s Hut, and we were getting ready to hike it and spend our first overnight in an alpine hut!  We had no sleeping bags, but we had a sheet, a fleece blanket each, and some enthusiasm.  Oh, and layers, and layers to wear to bed because our bedding was clearly insufficient for an alpine hut.  It was going to drop to about 6 degrees celsius.  Chilly!

The hike went as follows:  30 minutes in, hit the area of 2,000 steep stairs, hike those, get to Sealy Tarns, alpine scramble mostly using our hands up the mountain another hour and a half, and then make our way another 30 minutes over to the hut.  I think the way up took us about 4.5-5 hours (with a pretty long stop for lunch).

Just starting out…

Half-way through the Steps

After the stairs but before the scramble

Right before the scrambling

Some views along the way

Our stop for lunch!  It was nice to have a break from carrying the packs…

I like this one of Dan, who is clearly half-man and half-billy goat.

The last part of the hike.  The hut is in sight!

We hiked up to snow!  

Mueller’s Hut, Mount Cook

Ryan looking tired.

Ari and I collecting snow to keep our water, lemonade, and small amount of vodka cold!  

Alpine hut cooler and cooker

The views from the Hut.  We saw AT LEAST seven avalanches across the way while we were there!

A Himalayan Tahr came to visit us!

Inside the hut.  It sleeps 28 people.

A Pair of Kea Admiring the View

Close quarters.  No separate beds.  Just gym-mat type plastic mattresses stacked next to each other.

The four-star bathroom facilities.  Ari and I can’t wait to check them out!  Well, there were these two outhouses with no running water and BYO toilet paper, but at least they didn’t smell that badly.

Our family near sunset.

 

I wasn’t accustomed to having a fairly heavy pack on while hiking but I made it.  We immediately got to work collecting ice so we could have cold beverages.  We also staked out our beds, if you can call them that.  We enjoyed talking to other hikers, some from the States, some from Canada, and some from the Czech Republic.  People changed in front of each other, and it was fairly eye-opening for our kids.  (No one got REALLY naked or anything!)  We had our dinner of sourdough bread and instant noodles of varying types.  I had a coconut chicken one which was just like a Laksa flavor and was SO good.  The kids had Indian Butter Chicken Noodles and Dan had some sort of Stir Fry type.  They filled the belly.  We played some cards and decided to hit the hay.  That’s where the horrors began!  There were at least three LOUD snorers in our bunk room.  I finally went to sleep, but at about 2 in the morning, I was awoken by the chorus of motorboats lying beside me and all around me.  Mind you, I had ear plugs in AND a pair of pants over my head, but that could not dull the sounds.  Ryan also woke up, congested, with a headache (most likely from the altitude) and he too was feeling exasperated by the snoring.  We first brought our blankets out to the main room to sleep on the wooden benches, but I knew that wouldn’t work.  It was way too cold and hard.  Another man had given up long before us and was already there, and he told us we should bring our mattresses in.  Ry and I went back in and grabbed ours and slept in a V sharing one pillow, trying to stay warm with our wee little fleece blankets.  While it was warm in the bunk rooms with all of the bodies snoring there, it was pretty cold out in the main room.  Needless to say, our night of sleep was restless, and I missed the sunrise hike as Dan felt it better to let his most-likely-grumpy wife sleep.  He was probably right; I was tired.  I will say I enjoyed hearing the two loud avalanches (through my ear plugs) when I was trying to get back to sleep in that main room.

That morning, we had a quick breakfast of squished croissants (the kids) and date scones (the adults), and got dressed to go.

The morning of our hike down

I thought I would be incredibly sore from the hike up the day before, but I wasn’t–at least not initially.  It wasn’t until about 2/3rds of the way down that it hit.  And it hit hard.  My right knee was so weak, I lost control of the muscle and my leg wouldn’t cooperate with my will.  It would collapse on me.  I looked like a very old woman on the last third of that hike.  It hit the hardest when I still had 1,000 steps left and the 30 minute jaunt back to the car.  I limped.  It was a weird feeling to have something fail like that.  My knees have always been strong up until this point!   Luckily, Dan, with his torn meniscus, did well, and was not complaining.  Also, I was so proud of the kids.  They did great!  They didn’t complain at all, and in fact, they went ahead of us near the end, not wanting to wait for their newly invalid mother to stagger down the hill.  I am so proud of how resilient they have become in the outdoors.  Granted, they still both enjoy their computer time, but when we’re out doing HARD hikes and other activities, they have grit and they persevere, which is one of the qualities most associated with success in life.  I hope these experiences make them realize they can accomplish anything they want, provided they keep working at it and they don’t quit.

And on that note, I am going to end this blog post.  We are now in Christchurch, staying in a nice, older house for these last nights.  It is a very comfortable house with great, inviting linens.  Link:  https://www.holidayhouses.co.nz/properties/46479.asp

One day here, I awoke to my bed shaking; there was an earthquake (a 4 on the Richter Scale).  Nothing like being shaken out of bed in the morning by the EARTH!

Tomorrow, for our very last night in NZ, we will stay at a hotel by the airport.  We have a 7 a.m. flight to Singapore on Sunday morning.  Tomorrow morning (Saturday) we are closing on the sale of our car.

We are sending our computers to the States tomorrow.  We will only have my Motorola Droid and one fairly archaic iPad with us for our two month journey through SE Asia.  We will stay 3 nights in Singapore, but then we head on to Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and possibly Laos (we are still deciding that).  I can’t wait!

We are “flash-packing” apparently.  We just learned that flashpackers are usually older and stay in some nicer digs than hostels many nights during their travels.  That is definitely us.  We will only have backpacks, but we will mix it up when it comes to accommodations.  Heck, I have some Starwood Points I need to use anyway…

So there it is.  Our New Zealand time has come to an end, but we are continuing our exploration of this most amazing world in which we all live.  To steal a phrase from a successful United States company:  Life is Good.

 

A Whirlwind Adventure with Corinne and John

After Auckland, we headed out towards Rotorua, stopping in Matamata to go to Hobbiton.  John is a big fan of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, so they were keen to visit the original set where it was filmed.  It was fairly pricey and VERY touristy, so we were not expecting much.  I will say we were pleasantly surprised.  We had a great tour guide (Brock) who did not rush us through and was willing to take photos of entire families at any time.  He had interesting information about Peter Jackson’s decision-making, his perfectionism, and the amount of detail work that went into creating the set.  It finished with a drink in the bar (included) which was a nice end to the tour.  The village itself was so welcoming; it was like walking through a fairy tale!  So, I would give it two thumbs up, even if you don’t love the movies or touristic places.

Hobbiton

The One Fake Tree

Rotorua

We then traveled onward to Rotorua, where we were staying in a lakefront vacation rental.  The house was fine (not the best nor the worst place we stayed), but it was quite close to the center of Rotorua and some of what we wanted to do.

John and Corinne Enjoying a Glass of Wine

The View

We chose to go to Whakarewarewa, which is actually a shortened name from the whole village name.  It was a Maori village (some Maori folks still live there), and the thermal activity there was quite impressive.  You could see a large geyser, and the steam came out from everywhere.  It sort of felt like the surface of the sun walking through parts of that village!  They put on a little show to demonstrate the “Haka” or war dance, and was a nice way to spend a few hours.

The Whole Name.  Try saying that three times fast!

We then went for a picnic lunch at a park before heading back to our rental.

We had a few visitors; the man next door and his toddler son came over for a while and shared a beer (the father–not the son).  The son, Chris, spent most of his time trying to run into a neighbor’s yard and throwing rocks down toward the small beach, getting into things, and just generally being a toddler.

The Next Door Neighbor

His Son, Chris

Another day in Rotorua, we went to the Agrodome.  We got our tickets half-off on bookme, and for the amount we paid, it was well worth our time.  We learned about the different kinds of sheep, the kids fed some baby sheep out of a bottle on stage, and I milked a cow for the first time in my life.  We also got to watch the man sheer a sheep quite quickly.  I can’t believe how much wool they have on them!

Some of the Sheep Varieties.  I would rather be a wool sheep than a meat sheep.

The prized Merino.  This poor guy looked like he was having difficulty walking with all of that fine quality wool attached to his body!

The poor victim of a sheering…

Ari and Ryan taking turns feeding the babies.

“I milked a cow and I liked it…”  (That must be sung.)

Flock of Seagulls Sheep

“Horny” Dorset Sheep

Corinne Trying to Steal a Sheep

After Agrodome, we went out for Thai lunch, and rested at the rental for a little while.  That evening, we drove 30 km outside of Cambridge to do a glowworm kayaking tour.  We arrived around 6 p.m. and suited up with water resistant pants and jackets.  We then kayaked upriver for about an hour and a half or so, getting out on the river bank after that.  We ate snacks, drank some hot concoction of Tang and cinnamon (not as bad as it sounds), and headed back into the kayaks for launch.  Oh, and it was raining.  Normally, that would be a bad thing, but it actually was great!  It was a full moon, so if the night had been clear, we would not have seen the glowworms light up nearly as brilliantly as on a dark, rainy night.  When it finally got dark, we floated through the glowworm grotto and saw thousands of beautiful fungus gnat larvae lighting up the overhangs.  Ah, how romantic that sounds!   I mean, aside from the fact several of our “closest kayaking friends” on the kayak tour initially talked during the serene moment or hit us in our kayaks as we floated down the river, but that just can’t overshadow the beauty of the fungus gnat.  Really, nothing can.

Kayaking to See Glowworms–Such an enthusiastic bunch!

My Kayaking Buddy

A Wee Bit Wet Out

Rotorua sufficiently explored, we headed for Napier, the city our family loved.  On the way, we stopped briefly at Lake Taupo to show John and Corinne Huka Falls.

Huka Falls

We continued on to Napier and arrived at one of the nicest vacation rentals we have stayed at in New Zealand.  It was quite new, SO incredibly clean, well-decorated, had a lift available for the three floors, and it was across the street from the beach.  What more can you ask for?  Being the home owners’ first American guests, Angela and her husband, Peter, invited us over for a drink on our last evening there.  It was such a pleasure meeting them!  Peter works as a judge in Napier and Angela had a prior career in nursing.  Their place was so relaxing.  Here is the link:

https://www.airbnb.co.nz/rooms/15650798?%243p=e_eml&%24deeplink_path=airbnb%3A%2F%2Fd%2Flisting%3Fid%3D15650798&%24original_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.airbnb.com%2Frooms%2F15650798%3Feluid%3D1%26euid%3De310fbee-dbb1-ef4e-3fa0-95b667ba5cd4&_branch_match_id=366085008540278293&campaign=rookery&eluid=1&euid=e310fbee-dbb1-ef4e-3fa0-95b667ba5cd4&check_in=2017-01-14&check_out=2017-01-15&guests=1&adults=1

Napier Vacation Rental, one of the three bedrooms

One of the bathrooms

The View

The Dining Room

The Master Bedroom

Kicking it on the Screened-In Porch

Kitchen and Dining Room

We spent our first full day in Napier going back up to Bluff Hill and over to Te Mata to show John and Corinne the beautiful views.  We also stopped at one of the Garden areas of Napier and had a nice lunch on the way to Te Mata.  Another day, Dan and I got up early to go for a long walk, and then we pretty much relaxed that day, only making it to downtown Napier to explore the shops.  Art Deco weekend was taking place right after we left, so some people were starting to roll into town for that.  That evening, Craig and Kim came over for pizza and wine/beer.  We had so much fun–staying up WAY too late talking.  Poor Kim didn’t make it to work the next day and I too wasn’t feeling all that fantastic.

Seeing the Napier Sights With Corinne and John

View from Bluff Point

Lunch!

Ring Toss with Grandpa

Back to Te Mata so we could show them the view!

A photo with my Boy!

It was great to see Craig and Kim again while we were in Napier.  They are good people and very fun.  Hopefully, they’ll visit us in the States!

We were then off to Wellington for two nights.  We stayed in a strange rental, called the Wellington Container House.  It was made entirely out of shipping containers.  Unique place but I definitely wouldn’t want to live there!  The rooms were small and there was only 1.5 bathrooms which was difficult with all six of us.  This house had a media room, Playstation 3 (Ryan was happy for the few hours he played with it!), and a waterfall against the back wall.  The only full day we had in Wellington, it poured rain.  Add to that a looming deadline that Ryan and I had for application materials for a school he may go to, and it ended up that he and I stayed home to work while Dan, Ari, Corinne and John went to Te Papa Museum.  Ryan had some essays to write, I had a lot of paperwork to do, and luckily, we had already been to that museum.  Once we got the application done, Ryan hopped on Playstation and played on the big projector screen, and I opted for a short soak in the outdoor hot tub.  By the time everyone got home, we had to high-tail it to dinner (we went for Malaysian food at a really good restaurant in downtown Wellington), and then we went to a play at the Circa Theater.  It was supposed to be a comedy, and it had its funny moments, but partly, the play was depressing.  It was set in an old age community and the elderly residents were, overall, quite demoralized.  It was still worth seeing, although some of it was probably inappropriate for an 11 year old!

Wellington Container House:  This House has been Featured in a few international books.

We put Corinne to work while she was in NZ…

The next day we were off to the ferry to go to the South Island.  It was an enjoyable trip, and surprisingly, the food is quite good on the ferry.  I had a great salad with Kumara (sweet potato in the States), and Fried Houlimi cheese on it.  So good!  Plus, as we neared the south island, the views were brilliant!

The Ferry Entering Marlborough Sound

From the ferry, we drove to Anakiwa, which was only about 45 minutes away.  We had to re-provision in Picton which wasn’t the greatest for shopping, but we managed to find some things to eat.  One night, we went out to eat in Havelock and tried some tasty green lip mussels several different ways.  We ended up back at the same vacation rental because we loved it so much the first time (“John’s Place”).  The second time was just as good.  John and Corinne slept in the master bedroom with the incredible bathroom, and I think they enjoyed it.  We got a great big zucchini out of the garden to cook in a pasta dish for dinner and a few cherry tomatoes.  We also collected a large handful of lemons off of the lemon tree and made homemade lemonade.  Yum!  The next day, we decided to hike a bit of the Queen Charlotte Track, which started about a kilometer (or less) from the house.  We walked with John and Corinne down to a beach area.  They opted to head back and relax at a picnic table while we hiked about 4 km more.  It was such beautiful weather!

Anakiwa:  Cloudier this time but so beautiful when we arrived.  I just never tire of the views from this house and this bay in Marlborough Sound…

The house we stayed in is the white one half way up the hill to the left of the red-roof property.

The day after our hike, we relaxed much of the day, just doing a bit of cooking and enjoying the fantastic weather.  That evening, our friends from Blue Summit (Kate and Steve) were coming over for a potluck dinner with their friends, Suzie and Bob.  We had a great time with them!  It was fun for John and Corinne to get to meet a few of our sailing friends from the ARC!

The next morning, we were off to the west coast of the south island, specifically to Punakaiki, where the pancake rocks are.  Our vacation rental was there, and this was a happy medium between driving all the way down to the glacier area, and being closer to Anakiwa.  First, we passed through Nelson and had some lunch.  Nelson was another beautiful city and it would be a toss-up for me whether I’d choose Napier or Nelson to live in if I moved to New Zealand.  It was gorgeous too!

Nelson

This Young man stepped up to the “free” piano on the sidewalk.  I expected chopsticks but he actually played beautifully and had obviously spent a lot of time in piano lessons back in the country he came from!

Pretty and Quaint Nelson

It was about 5-5.5 hours to drive to Punakaiki, but we finally made it in the evening.  We ended up grabbing dinner at the Punakaiki Tavern down the road (where we also had to pick up the key for the rental).  This cabin type house was pretty nice, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a great view.   Here is where we stayed:  https://www.holidayhouses.co.nz/properties/26344.asp

West Coast:  Punakaiki Rental House, The view behind the house…

The View from the Front Deck.  Across the street is the ocean.

Our first day in Punakaiki we went to Pancake Rocks and explored the caverns they had there.  You needed torches, but John, the kids, and Dan went into the depths of the caves to explore.  I went some of the way but opted to hike down into the ravine that was near the start.  Corinne went into the cave, but given it was VERY unsteady ground, she opted to wait for us to come out from the dark.  Although we missed the blowholes that are formed at high-tide, Pancake Rocks were still amazing.  We also went on another hike that day over a suspension bridge.  It was a pleasant, outdoorsy day, except for the terrible sand flies that permeate the area.  Apparently, the bugs are notoriously bad there, as we later found out from people in Christchurch.  A week and a half later and I still have a few scars on my feet from those pesky sand flies!

Pancake Rocks

That night, we got the green light!  I had contacted Anderson Helicopters about a month before our arrival into Punakaiki, and had confirmed a helicopter ride, weather-permitting.  The last time we were on the west coast, the weather was rubbish, and there was no way we were seeing a glacier.  Anderson Helicopters flew from Hokitika Airport, which was an hour and a half from where we were staying.  Flying on the copter allowed us to cut about 5 hours out of our driving, and I really didn’t want to bring everyone down to the glaciers for a repeat of bad weather.  This worked out really well.  We were going on a helicopter ride!  Another first for me…and I was so excited!  The other good thing was that the ride was going to be a long one.  We opted for their longest ride, because it included a ride down the west coast, then over the glaciers of Mount Cook, Fox, Franz Josef, Tasman and one other one I can’t recall, and then back up over Hokitika Gorge and the inland farm areas.  It amounted to 1.3 hours of flying time, with a 15 minute landing on a glacier.  It was a bit pricey (we paid $2,690 NZ for the six of us), but I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing I didn’t want to miss.  Also, this seemed a great way to let John and Corinne see much of the rugged south island without having to hike for hours or drive for hours and hours to get to the edges of it.  This was definitely one of the highlights of the NZ trip for me (and for Ryan too, who beamed the entire time).   It was so cool flying in between two mountain peaks!

The Helicopter Ride from Hokitika

The West Coast

Almost a perfect photo but when you have to sneeze, you have to sneeze!

 

John and Corinne Looking Happy as Clams!

I love my babies!

I got to ride in the front after we did our glacier landing.  I LOVE small aircraft!!!

I don’t have the color-enhancing setting on this picture of Hokitika Gorge.  It really was this beautiful naturally.  

This Sums up my Happiness Level:

Arthur’s Pass

The next day, we were off to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass.  We stopped a few places on the way, one of which we were able to see some keas–the world’s only alpine parrot.  These are officially Ariana’s favorite bird now.  They are quite cute, smart, and pretty!

We also did a hike to a waterfall.  Although Corinne opted to sit this one out (it was a lot of uphill), John and the rest of us hiked up to see the waterfall.

The views here are so pretty…

Christchurch

In Christchurch, we stayed in an airbnb that was essentially part of a couple’s house.  I thought it would be a bit more separate, but it turned out okay overall.  Tom, the owner, was a nice man, and the space had three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms and a small kitchen/living room that was quite dated!  it was fine though…

We went on the free walking tour, hit the Christchurch museum, and ended our time with John and Corinne playing cards and laughing until we were crying.  Only Corinne will understand this, but it really had to do with the “love factor” of those pesky glowworms!

Botanical Gardens Fountain

Corinne Hanging on the Lawn of the Botanical Gardens

Christchurch Memorial to Earthquake Victims

These “shock absorbers” were on every single support piling in the underground parking garage in the Christchurch Art Museum.  Interestingly, there were hardly any cars in that parking garage.  A woman on the walking tour told me very few CC residents will park in underground parking garages because they have so many earthquakes…

Ariana took this beautiful photo of Fuschia Flowers in Tom’s Backyard (the owner of the airbnb property).  

That next day, our time with John and Corinne ended, as they flew out of Christchurch back to the States.  We had a great time with them here, and we were so glad they came over.  It is a long trip, but after almost a year and a half of not seeing them, it was wonderful to be reunited!

Stay tuned…  Our last post in New Zealand will be about Mueller’s Hut Hike.  (Yeah, yeah, I am posting that tonight too because my computer is being shipped out to our friend’s house in San Francisco!  Jen and Paul, we will see you in two months!

Auckland, the Super Bowl, and Waiting and Waiting for Corinne and John

We arrived into Auckland and stayed in an Airbnb property for two nights.  We knew we were going to spend 3 more nights in Auckland when John and Corinne arrived, so we really weren’t too eager to add another two days to that, but we had no choice if we wanted to have a place to watch the crazy Superbowl this year.  We made the best of it.  Everyone has their preferences, and Auckland for us was pretty much our least favorite place in NZ.  I guess it it just because it is so large and seems to have less character compared to the other areas in NZ.  But, we had a great place to watch the Superbowl in the Parnell area and we were able to walk to many downtown destinations.  We even had a view of the Sky Tower.

Our Night View.  For some reason, I really like this photo, with the big ‘ole satellite dish and the star in the sky…

We walked around Auckland both before and after the Superbowl, probably because we pigged out on snacks during the game (e.g., chicken nuggets and BBQ, veggies and Ranch, chips and Mexican layer dip, etc.).  We decided to climb trees in honor of the Patriots.  Okay, it wasn’t in their honor, but we did climb a tree.

In the park by the War Museum, people were setting up for the Chinese Lantern Festival (as it was almost Chinese New Year).  We learned we would still be in Auckland for the first night of the festival, so we decided we would take John and Corinne while they were here on their third and last night in Auckland.  As luck would have it though, John and Corinne got stuck in San Francisco.  Not only were they ONE day late, but they were TWO days late.  We felt terrible that they had to endure such a travel nightmare.  The first night was weather related delays and the second night the plane had a mechanical problem.  With one flight a day to NZ, there was no choice but to sit it out and wait.  Crazy.

Daytime View of the Chinese Lantern Festival During Set-Up.

In the meantime, I celebrated a birthday, which entailed eating out at an Italian Restaurant and walking around the waterfront.  It was very low-key, to say the least. Oh, and two days before, I had the best pizza I have eaten since I was in the United States.  It was REAL NY style pie and I couldn’t have been happier eating those two big slabs of floppy cheesy goodness.  Just writing this makes me dream about it right now.  Yum.  Okay, I’m not kidding; I miss that pizza.  But guess what?  I just looked it up and I found out that there is a Sal’s here in Christchurch too!  No way!  I have to get pizza there just one more time before we fly out on Sunday.  I just HAVE to!

Lunch in Auckland

Finally, John and Corinne made it to New Zealand!  We picked them up and hightailed it back to the not-so-great apartment we were now staying in.  We then went to Mount Eden for the long-range views, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed out that evening to the Chinese Lantern Festival. Unfortunately, it did start to rain while we were there, but it was pretty regardless.

Mount Eden

All of Us Together at the Top of Mount Eden

Sky Tower During the Day

Chinese Lantern Festival at Night.  The lanterns didn’t come out as well as the larger, blow-up displays, but they did have hanging lanterns of all types (fish, flowers, traditional lanterns) hanging from the trees as well.

Alas, it was time to head out of Auckland once again.  The next day, we were headed to Matamata (for Hobbiton) and then on to Rotorua for three nights…

A Brief Stop in Hamilton

We stopped in Hamilton for one night.  It was only one of two nights our entire time in New Zealand that we stayed in a hotel.  It was a “Bella Vista Hotel,” which I think it similar to a Hampton Inn of New Zealand (without the free breakfast).  The hotel was fine, but the only thing we really did in Hamilton was to visit their gardens.  It was well worth it.  The country of New Zealand is loaded with beautiful gardens.  Every city and many towns seem to have these dedicated, well-maintained gardens that are just beautiful.  We REALLY liked the gardens in Hamilton.  What is unique about them is that they have different sections or “rooms” with different themes.  It was like a theme park garden!  They had the Chinese Garden, the Fantasy, the Italian, the Indian, the English, and the “kitchen” garden, as well as many others.  The gardeners spent so much time researching the different characteristics of these gardens and they were all so different from one another.  Seriously, even if you’re not a big flower fan, these gardens were cool because you learned history while you explored them…

Hamilton Gardens

Next Post:  Back to Auckland for the Superbowl and Picking up Corinne and John From the Airport

Napier and Staying with Craig and Kim

While we were in Ohakune, we did our active stuff, but the kids also did a lot of school.  After that, we were off to Napier, and we were going to spend two nights staying with Craig Morley (who you’ll recognize from a long-ago prior post) and his partner, Kim.  Craig was stuck on Palmerston Island with no way off since the supply ship was not working, and consequently, was not going to be arriving at the island.  So Craig sailed with us from Palmerston to Niue, where he could then fly home to NZ.  Craig and Kim were so nice to let us stay with them, and they have a great place!  The evening we arrived, we all went out for some yummy Indian Food.  We ate so much…

Craig and Kim (and their dog, “SD”)

Craig and Kim’s Cool Place–The Deck

Their View

While Kim had to work, Craig acted as our tour guide for the day.  He drove us out to Te Mata, which is a great observation point about 30 minutes outside of Napier.  The weather was gorgeous and the views were spectacular.  It reminded me of a cross between California and Nevada.

Te Mata with Craig

The Views One Way

And another view…

This view is out to a winery.

Afterwards, we headed through wine country and stopped at two different ones.  The first was Black Barn Vineyards and the second was Clearview, which had a fantastic Chardonnay.  Then we went for lunch and enjoyed views of the ocean while we dined on salads and pastas.

Heading to a Napier Area Winery

Why did the Pukeko cross the road?

Our Spot for Lunch

That evening, when Kim came home, we chatted and ate the many snacks Kim put together.  We stayed up late talking and enjoying Kim and Craig’s company.  The next morning, we walked to their favorite Saturday haunt, which was a little farmer’s market-slash-get a good breakfast sandwich place on the edge of a downtown park.  We had fresh squeezed juice and eggs and cheese on fresh baked toast.  This was a great way to spend our morning before we headed out to Hamilton for the night.  We had a great time hanging out with Craig and Kim!

Napier is a great city.  If we were move to New Zealand, we would most likely live here.  It is a mid-sized city that is generally warmer than other parts of New Zealand, has palm trees, and beautiful hills with art deco architecture.  In 1931, Napier had a HUGE earthquake that caused so much damage.  When the residents decided to rebuild, they built in the style at the time, which was art deco.  It was really neat to see and we were happy we had planned to come back to this area when Dan’s mom, Corinne, and her husband, John, came to New Zealand.

Downtown Napier

Saturday Market in Napier

Downtown Napier

Art Deco Napier

An Old Car in Downtown Napier

Next up:  A Brief Stop in Hamilton 

What’s next?

I still have a lot to summarize for New Zealand, but just a heads up:  we leave NZ this Sunday (in just three days)!  I plan to get this blog updated re: NZ over the next few days, and keep short posts while we’re in SE Asia.

We are not taking computers.  I will just have my SmartPhone and we will have an iPad.  We are mostly winging it, and we can’t wait!

I love travel.  I am a travel addict.  There, I said it…

Sadly, I believe the kids are also starting to “catch” this travel bug.  Oh boy.

Ohakune, Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and Mountain Biking Fisher’s Trail

From Lake Taupo, we drove down to Ohakune, which is actually a ski destination on the north island in the winter.  It was such a cute town, and offered a lot of activities within the area.  We stayed here:  http://www.bachcare.co.nz/holiday-homes-accommodation/mt-ruapehu/ohakune/alta-house/808, which turned out to be a great house that was also economical.  The kids were happy because they each had their own room, there was Internet, and a washer AND a dryer.  Plus, it was quite a modern house, which we enjoyed.

We knew we wanted to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing while we were in this area, as this hike is rated in the top 10 day hikes in the WORLD!  How could we not hike this?  It was estimated to be about 6-8 hours, but we were ready.  It is a one-way hike, so we prearranged transport and drove our car to the finish and then we took a bus to the start.  This way, when we finished the hike, we could hop (or stagger!) into our car and head back.  The hike turned out to be amazing!  It started with a walk through what looked like the surface of Mars, and then we had an uphill battle.  After that, we came to the Red Crater Summit, and it was so windy up there!  Next, we had to slide down the hill digging our heels into the gravel as we went.  So many people fell during this part.  The views were breathtaking–crystal blue and turquoise glacier lakes, beautiful mountains, etc.  Then we were walking switchback upon switchback, and downhill, back uphill, and it went on and on.  It was a little over 12 miles up and down and overall, with a break for lunch and some stops to enjoy the views, it took us 7 hours.  The kids did great, and much of the second half, they spent walking ahead of us on their own, enjoying a bit of time to think.  Here are some of our pictures:

The Mountain

The Start of the Hike

What have we gotten ourselves into?  

Along the Way, Looking Like the Surface of Mars!

Closer to the Summit–So Much Colder up There

Dan and Ariana

So Many Different Layers to Wear on This Hike

Red Crater

Ariana Working Her Way Down the Slippery Slope

Ryan Too!

The Glacial Lakes

A bit warmer now!

Isn’t that the most beautiful blue?

Red Crater From a Distance (The Third Part of the Hike)

Our Kids Further In the Hike–up ahead of us by a switchback.

The Back side of the Hike

That Path is Where We Just Walked From on the Last Part of the Hike.  We were all just like ants on a trail!

The end of this hike was so different from the beginning!

We were very sore the next day, so we relaxed and actually toured some wooden yurts that were being built down the street from where we were staying.  Still a bit sore two days later, we decided to go mountain biking.  We purchased half-off mountain biking on Bookme and ended up doing Fisher’s Trail which was rated to be an easy ride.  Yeah, right.  It was essentially down a mountain, with deep wet mud grooves and areas where, if you mess up, you’re riding yourself off of a small cliff.  Joy!  It was still a beautiful ride especially if you’re a bit sadistic.  Okay, actually, Dan LOVED it.  Ariana came in second, followed by me, and finally Ryan, who isn’t the biggest fan of bike riding to begin with.  Anyway, it was a beautiful day when we left National Park and headed out.  There were moments that were difficult, and many moments where we had to stop and walk through mud divots.  We survived and were sore yet another day!  😉   The owner of the bikes did check on us when we were only about 6 km from the finish, but we opted not to load our bikes in his truck.  Instead, we needed to finish our 27 km ride!   And we did…

Mountain Biking Fisher’s Trail

Near the End!

Our kids are growing tougher each day we’re out and about in the world.  I love it!

Next:  Napier, visiting Craig and Kim.  (Craig was our passenger from Palmerston Atoll to Niue!)

 

Dan’s Dad in NZ: Part 2, North Island and Our Pet Sit in Taupo

As soon as we exited the ferry, we headed for our vacation rental to drop off our stuff.  We ended up staying and making dinner at the house.  It was a cool place.  The owners purchased this church lodge and remodeled it, keeping some of the original elements.  It had three bedrooms, but only one bath, and it was downstairs!  We ended giving Gabe the downstairs bedroom so he could be closer to the bathroom in the night.  For us, it proved more difficult.  I guess we’ve just been “spoiled” living on the boat where you can reach everywhere in a few steps.  The kitchen and bath of this place were quite modern despite the age of the property itself.  It was very unique!

Photos of the Wellington House

Split Staircase up to Each Upstairs Bedroom

Bath

Kitchen with a 5 Burner Gas Range.  I haven’t seen one of those in a VERY long time!

Living Room

Ceiling Detail, Each corner had one representing the four different seasons

Original Plaque, now encased in a wood cabinet

We really had only one full day in Wellington, so we made sure to do what we could–for the most part.  Ariana was scheduled for an acting class from 9:30 to 4.  She had a blast as it was focused on improv and she was quite happy to be doing what she loves most.  The rest of us headed to Te Papa Museum which was four or five stories of lots to see.  We didn’t even see it all, but they’re the only museum in the world that has a colossal squid preserved and on display.  This strange squid actually grabbed onto a fishing line and wouldn’t let go, so when the fishermen pulled up their line, they found it.  Apparently, it was too late to save it, so they decided not to put it back into the water.  No one has seen a male giant squid so the researchers were hoping for the best, but it turned out to have eggs.

Colossal Squid

Then there was this crazy baby thing at the museum…Seriously, isn’t this the scariest looking baby you’ve ever seen?

We also got to see some of the great views of the city from the museum.

Wellington

After seeing some of the sights, we decided to return for lunch and to watch the playoff football game on TV before we picked up Ari.  After getting Ari, Dan and I went for a walk in the area of Wellington called Petone.

The next day we were off again, just to spend a night in National Park in an attempt to break up the drive to Waitomo.  After one night there, we headed to Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms.  It turns out glowworms are actually fly maggots (larvae stage of the fungus gnat), but that is definitely not as sexy or cutesy as “glowworm,” hence the name.  We did a tour with Spellbound that was described in such a way that I knew Gabe would also be able to do it with few issues.  It turned out to be a good fit because although there was some walking involved, the tour guide did drive Gabe for most of that so he did not have to walk as much.  We went to the first cave to see the glowworms.  We boarded a raft in a group of 12 and were gently guided through the dark cave while the roof of the cave glistened with thousands of these little worms.  All head torches were turned off and we could just listen to the flowing river water and watch the twinkles of the cave. It was quite beautiful.  Some had brighter bioluminescence than others.  After that cave, we walked to another dry cave that was so pretty.  The cave contained the bones of a moa, a bird that has been extinct since the Maori’s hunted them to extinction about 500 years ago.  It also had cave cauliflower, stalagmites and stalactites.  I enjoyed this cave nearly as much or as much as the glowworm cave…

Gabe ducking into the dark, wet glowworm cave.

A motley crew of cavers.

The eel we fed. Just like Huahine, French Polynesia!

The river along the way.

Ryan on the path to the next cave.

With Waitomo Caves explored, we had lunch at a cafe and headed to Taupo.  Dan, the kids and I had a pet sit in Taupo starting the next day.  We got Gabe a hotel room for the night.  I am sure he was happy to have the break from us!  We visited our housesit family and went back out to dinner a few hours later with Gabe at the Lakehouse.  After dinner, we headed back to the Taupo pet sit house.   The next morning, we were officially taking care of Minnie (an 18-month old, brindled American Staffordshire), Little (a 12 year old orange tabby), and Tiny (a 2 year old grey, white and black cat).  It was great to have pets around once again!

The kids and I said our goodbyes to Gabe that morning, as he and Dan were going to Auckland for the night.  Gabe had a flight out the next day, and they were going to see a bit of Auckland before his departure.  The kids and I stayed at the house, took Minnie for a walk to the Botanical Gardens and hung out with the animals.  It was nice and relaxing.

Little

Minnie

Minnie looked a bit evil, so much so that Ari coined her “Mini Terminator,” but she was anything but.  She was a very sweet dog.  One of the cats (Tiny) actually bullied Minnie.  We caught him swatting at her three times in a row for no reason.  Another morning, I went to let Minnie out to use the bathroom, and she didn’t want to go despite the fact she had just whimpered to let me know she had to go.  I quickly saw why.  Tiny was lying out there and when she spotted him, she didn’t feel brave enough to venture out.  I went outside with her so the mean ‘ole bully cat wouldn’t go after her, and she was able to go.  All this being said, Tiny was actually a fairly sweet cat to humans.  He didn’t bite or scratch or hiss; he was just a bit aloof.  Humans definitely existed FOR him!  Little was the opposite.  He slept with one of the kids every night and would often come and sit on their laps or ours on the couch if we were watching the telly at night.  Minnie would sit on the other couch with us.  They were quite sweet and we enjoyed taking care of them, and walking Minnie every day definitely made her happy despite the fact her family was away.

While we were in Taupo, we managed to do a few things as well.   One day, we went on a power boat for a few hours, that was to take us to some Maori rock carvings only accessible by water.  This was another event we booked on “bookme.com” for half-price.  The rock carvings weren’t that old (about 40 years old), but they were cool nonetheless.  Not only that, but after a good spell of rainy, rubbish weather, we had a beautiful sunny day and a calm lake.  Plus, they had wine onboard and I had made everyone a chicken, bean and cheese burrito with salsa for lunch, so it was a win-win.

Black Swan

Karate Seagull 

The Area of the Rock Carvings

Black and white Rock Carving Photos

The Rock Carvings

Another evening, Dan and I had a date night and we went for some very excellent Thai food.  I find that we gravitate towards ethnic foods here in New Zealand because the menu appeals to us more than the New Zealand typical menu.  We’re not really fans of beef, lamb, veal, pork belly, rabbit, and pizzas with Camembert cheese and cranberry.  But put a plate of Pad See Ew with Chicken, Thai Green or Indian Curry, Mexican tacos, or a Turkish Kebab with Middle-Eastern side dishes, and we’re all happy as clams.

Kate and Steve from Blue Summit came through Taupo and we got to have dinner with them. We also caught up with their adventures, and drank some good wine.  The next day, Dan, the kids and I went to the Taupo DeBrett’s Hot Pools.  We again used Bookme to purchase half-price tickets and paid for the kids to go on the waterslides when we got there.  We stayed there for a few hours and then we were done.

We took Minnie hiking, and played ball along the hillside.

Yet another day we decided to go to Rotorua to do the Skyline Luge.  The kids did their school in the morning and then we headed over to Rotorua, had Turkish food (surprise, surprise) and headed up the gondola for some luge action.  We had 10 rides total, so we all took the scenic path the first time (4), we sent the kids on the intermediate path while we had a glass of wine and listened to live music at the top of the mountain (2), and then we all took the advanced track (4) which was extremely fun.  I loved zipping around the mountain!  Interestingly, we did the Alpine Luge in Mont Tremblant, Canada about 4 years ago, and the same company built the one in Rotorua.  The difference was that in Mont Tremblant, they had only one run; in Rotorua they had three.  While we were riding back up the ski lift, we saw deer, bunnies and sheep with birds on their backs.  It was like Disney!  Anyway, it was time to head back to Taupo, and we were greeted warmly by Minnie Terminator.  It was a great end to the day!

Rotorua Luge

Ari and Ryan 

Mount Ruapane, near Tongariro National Park

NEXT STOP:  Ohakune and Tongariro National Park