Monthly Archives: February 2017

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


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.


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.



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 “” 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


Fun with Gabe–Dan’s dad visits NZ.

Off to Queenstown!

We left Dunedin after only two nights of Gabe arriving.  We headed for Queenstown, as we had a vacation rental lined up for three nights.  We knew we had a lot of ground to cover.  Gabe was only staying in NZ for a few weeks, and we had to make it all the way back to Auckland by the time he was to leave.  Flying into Dunedin meant we had to drive up most of the country and take the 3.5 hour inter-island ferry along the way.  New Zealand may look small on a map, but when you’re driving it in a relatively short amount of time, it feels like Russia.  Queenstown was busy, but quite nice, nonetheless.  We stayed here, which is normally booked up, so we were lucky to get it:

The place was quite nice with heated towel bars and heated bathroom floors.  It wasn’t huge, but it was a three bedroom, two bath and perfectly fine for us.  Oh, and it had a BBQ.

Here were our views:

Neighborhood Flowers

In Queenstown, we walked around, saw the botanical gardens, ate lunch at Speight’s, and relaxed.  Another day, we drove to Arrowtown and panned for gold!  The place we stayed had gold pans and a shovel available for us to use so we took them along.  We arrived at the river and had absolutely no idea how to pan for gold.  Not a clue.  There happened to be a local man there in the river panning for gold himself and he was willing to show the kids and me how to do it correctly.  He had collected enough flakes over time to make about two rings.  His demonstration was actually quite interesting, and it took me about 40 minutes and I STILL was not down to just the black sand where the gold flecks lie.  Plus, my feet, that were in the water, were red with the cold.  I pawned my pan off to Ariana and decided to join Dan and Gabe for a beer, but Ariana worked to get the pan down to just black sand.  No flecks in my scoop.  Ultimately, Ryan found two miniscule flecks of gold and Ariana found one.  Hers was so small she decided to eat it.  Now Ariana is made of gold.

The kids panning for gold in Arrowtown

Another day we were headed to a winery but got side-tracked by the AJ Hackett’s bungy jump place.  We decided to go in just to watch the crazy daredevil people jump off a bridge and entrust their bodies to essentially a rubber band tied around a towel on their legs.  I couldn’t even go all the way up to the railing to watch other people jump.  While the kids and Dan went on the bridge to get a bird’s eye view, I stayed on the platform about 2 feet from the railing.  Did I mention previously that I am afraid of heights?  I am fine on a rollercoaster or IN something, but I guess I fear being pushed over the edge or that a huge gust of wind will throw me off-kilter and off the side of a cliff.  I digress.  My own crazy daredevil daughter decided to bungy-jump when we offered to pay the $150 or so NZ for her to VOLUNTEER to jump off of a bridge upside down.  I wasn’t able to post the whole video here because my blog said it was too large, but I will try to cut it down and post it later.  In the meantime, here are a few screen shots:

Ariana Bungy Jumping


Ariana jumped voluntarily and didn’t even need to be pushed.  She also didn’t need counseling afterward or a shot of scotch.  Nope.  She loved it.  I couldn’t watch the whole thing–and I had a glass of wine in the hopes I wouldn’t be so nervous for her.  I couldn’t help it; I was a wreck.  She is a brave girl, and yes, she would love to do it again.

Queenstown Gardens

Lunch at Speight’s in Queenstown, Ari and Grandpa Gabe

Have you seen a more perfect tree?  It’s beautiful!

Another tree…

The Gardens of Queenstown.  The other half of the sun blossomed on the other side of the walkway.

Queenstown Marina

Outside of Queenstown

Franz Josef and Okarito

After three nights in Queenstown, we headed up the coast to Franz Josef Glacier area, about a 5.5 hour drive.

We ended up staying in a small house in Okarito, but it was right next to an “off the beaten path” hidden hike in the area that started with a boardwalk.   (This place:  It was called:  “Fernbird Retreat.”

Although the area was nice, the weather was terrible in the glacier area.  It rained…and rained…and rained, and even rained off and on in Okarito at the house as well.  We did a small walk near the house and another in the glacier area, but the weather was not cooperating.  We would see no glacier.  We saw no snow.  It was a good thing we didn’t book to stay longer in that area because I think it is like that most of the time.  The hint was this one bar that advertised:  “When it pours, we pour.”  Huh.  That could have been my first clue that it rains all the darned time.  As I write this, about a month later, it is STILL raining a lot in the glacier area.  I sure hope it clears up before Corinne and John get here!

One interesting part of the time in Okarito was the beach that was essentially across the street from the cottage.  It was almost deserted, but it had the most incredible rocks/stones.  I found one that was a perfect egg-shaped white crystal-like stone.  I have no idea how it got so perfect but it was.  We actually thought we were going to stay in this house again when Dan’s mom, Corinne, and her husband, John, came to town, so I left a small baggie full of the “treasures from the sea” that the kids and I collected, underneath one of the beds.  How strange will it be when someone finds a bag of rocks cleaning the place?  I can guess they won’t believe an old lady like myself decided to put them there.  Strangely, I wish I had kept the perfect rock; it could have been my good luck charm!

The Beach in Okarito

Driving up to Franz Josef from Queenstown

Franz Josef was sort of a let-down, so we were not sad when it was time to leave.   We were off to Anakiwa, a small village on the very north part of the south island, in the Marlborough Sound (also where Queen Charlotte track begins).

Anakiwa, South Island (northern region)

It was a long drive from Okarito to Anakiwa, much longer than we wanted to spend in the car.  It surprises me how small NZ looks on a map.  I know I’ve already said it, but it sure doesn’t feel small when you’re driving it!  The weather seemed warmer already.  We were so excited.  After touring the south island for a month and a half, it was time to shed the coats.  How many times can I wear the same three pairs of jeans?  Plus, isn’t this summer?

So imagine all of our surprise when we arrive at “John’s Place,” a lovely vacation rental with a view to die for.  Dan’s dad was very excited about it; he liked the view of the lake down in Queenstown, but this surely topped that–and it was warmer!   During our three night stay there, Gabe said that if he ever goes missing, people should check that house first because that is where he will be.   (  The photos the owners use for this rental don’t do the place justice.  It was much nicer in person.

Anakiwa House

The Living Room

The View from the Living Room!

The View Zoomed in a Bit.  Those are the Marlborough Sounds going all the way back.

The Kitchen and Dining Room

The Master Bathroom:  BEST BATH EVER!  Jacuzzi jets, hot water, a glass of Chardonnay…

…and this view!

Fantail Bird

Gabe on the Porch Enjoying the View

At Dusk

The Interesting “Library” Down the Street from the House.  It was in an old refrigerator.

The View down by the Waterfront

It was hard to leave the house, but we managed to arrange for something to do.  Dan decided to do part of the Queen Charlotte Track (he did about 27k that day), the kids and I decided to do a mail boat tour of the Marlborough Sound (delivering mail to the out-islands), and Gabe…well Gabe decided to enjoy the serenity of the house with us gone!  Dan came home to his Dad sitting with a glass of Jack Daniel’s, the music blaring like a teenager, and taking in the peace of the sailboats on the water.  I think he made the right choice!

The mail boat was unique, but I think they really wanted to paint the picture that the folks who live out on the out-islands, only accessible by boat, are entirely interesting, unique and possibly overly eccentric.  We were a tough audience in that regard given all the travels we have done over the last year plus!  Not one of the stories of their “roughing it” on the island came close to the way some of the islanders in Fiji live, or the way the folks in Palmerston go without supply ships for up to two years at a time and have VERY few fresh vegetables and fruits.  Plus, the tour was seven hours, which seemed long despite having once spent 3 weeks at sea without sight of land!  That being said, when I stand back and assess it, I can imagine it would be very interesting and an enjoyable day out on the water for most people.  We’re just not most people anymore when it comes to learning about the lives of island people, for better or worse!

We went to dinner in Havelock while we stayed in Anakiwa as well.  It was a decent dinner and on the way we passed the elementary school of the great, Nobel-prized physicist Ernest Rutherford, also known as the father of nuclear physics.  He actually attended Havelock Elementary and the locals are quite proud of it!

Anakiwa Waterfront

The Pelorus Mail Boat.  This boat is the only way some of the locals on the out-islands can send and receive mail.  It has been in operation for 100 years next year (they are getting a great big catamaran built for them this year).  We visited a few island docks and met a view of the residents (along with their pets), we saw a blue penguin in the water, we saw a colony of Great Shags, and we visited a green mussel farm.  Here, the tour guides pulled up the mussels and explained how they are grown.  That was very interesting, and if you wanted, you could eat a raw mussel.

The Pelorus Mail Run:  Ariana

New Zealand Great Shags

Greeting the Mail Recipients

A Pig Coming to Get the Mail.  Actually, the boat captain gives him dog biscuits.

A Woman, a Dog and Piglets

The Mussels

Green Mussel

Green Mussel Farm, Marlborough Sound


We had one night in Blenheim before we were to take the Picton car ferry to the north island.  This day, Dan, Gabe, and Ryan went to the Aviation Museum in Blenheim and Ariana and I walked to some Marlborough wineries.  The day was absolutely beautiful and the nicest we had so far the entire time we’d been in New Zealand.

Sea Grove Cottage in Blenheim, right next to MANY wineries!

The View from Sea Grove Cottage

Ari and I first walked to Huia Winery, which is in the process of receiving its organic classification.  The chickens were quite cheeky there, and would jump up and eat the grapes off the vine.  Here is a picture of one of the scoundrels.

Huia Vineyard

Ariana at Huia Vineyard Tasting Room

Some Views along Our Walk

We then went to a second winery…

And a third…

Finally, we settled at a forth for lunch together.  As it turned out, Dan, Gabe and Ryan joined us when we had just finished eating.  It was lovely!  That evening, we ate dinner in the screened in porch and relaxed.  The next morning, we packed up and headed to Picton where we had lunch and bordered the ferry.  The ferry was great!  Despite the fact the winds were howling, we felt no movement inside the ferry.  They had a movie theater, a lounge, and drinks and food for sale.  Outside was a different story.  Walking outside on the ship, the wind near about knocked Gabe over!  He had decided to go outside with Dan but quickly changed his mind after being assaulted by the 60-80 kilometer winds!

Ha, we finally arrived to the north island and we didn’t have to go far.  We were staying in Wellington for two nights.  I will continue this in another post!