One of Tate’s requests while we were in Queenstown was to bungy jump. I have never and will never make that leap. Jeff values his life too much and Emma claims she will when Tate does. I knew he wouldn’t make the weight cut off but I still felt a little nervous as he stepped on the scale. Thankfully, he was sent away with instructions to eat more cheeseburgers and come back in a year or so. I have no doubt that given the opportunity in a few years that Poppy will hurl herself over that platform. Thankfully, the kids were satisfied watching others ‘succeed’ and I managed to keep $400 and delay the onset of gray hair.
Our next destination was Aoraki Mount Cook. Towering at 3,754 meters (12,218 ft), it is New Zealand’s highest mountain and one that attracts outdoor enthusiasts from all around the world. The 2 lane road hugs the beautiful Lake Pukaki and delivers you at the base of the mountain. While we did have time for lunch at the historic and somewhat dated Hermitage Hotel, we didn’t have time to truly experience all that this part of my country has to offer.
Our next stop was the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone church on the shores of Lake Tekapo. I love a small, country church and this one is the epitome of that. Except for the throngs of overseas tourists climbing over each other to get a photo. I have no idea how to use photoshop so the fact that I managed to get some photos with only one person in them is a divine miracle in itself. I took a photo of the kids on the front steps and so did hundreds of Japanese tourists. It was okay until one of them ran up to Emma and fixed her hair…time to hit the road.
When the pioneers built this Church in 1935, I imagine their work was guided by a simple wish to provide a place to worship. It is now, obviously, on the world map for photo ops. And I contributed to the problem. It made me more mindful of the world we live in and the intent behind a destination. If we find ourselves along these beautiful shores again, I will plan accordingly and attend a service here. Maybe the builders work is not in vain. Maybe, just maybe, the very serenity they sought to provide is only found inside.
We then headed for Christchurch, the 3rd largest city in New Zealand. This city was devastated by an earthquake on the 22nd of February, 2011. The earthquake, 6.3 on the Richter scale, killed 185 people and earned itself the horrible ranking as the nation’s third largest deadliest natural disaster. More often than not, New Zealand news does not reach me in the U.S. This was awful enough to make the worldwide news. With a cousin and his family in Christchurch and many childhood friends, this hit close to home. Selfishly, we were relieved that no one that we loved died that day. Frantic calls were made and sweet American friends checked in. Many New Zealand friends advised against visiting Christchurch. They said it would be too depressing. As a city that I grew up traveling to for tennis tournaments, I have so many fond memories of being there. I wanted to go, if only for a few hours. What I found was so inspiring. A city that was in many ways, through violent tragedy, given a fresh start.
I do not remember visiting a city that was so alive with hope. The people who are there, choose to be there and their passion shows. We had just enough time to stroll around the Christchurch Cathedral, and witness the devastation for ourselves. It is difficult for kids to grasp things they can not see. I wanted them to try to understand this. I wanted them to see the devastation and the rebuilding of Christchurch. I did not find it depressing as friends had warned. I found the city to be uplifting and wondered how many cities, if given the chance, would make significant changes to their infrastructure. More emphasis on walking and less on driving. More designated green space. The Avon river which I canoed many a day with my family, still winds beautifully through Christchurch. The weeping willows are bigger than I remember.
The next place we stumbled upon was the winery of one of my favourite wines, Black Estate. Located in the picturesque Waipara Valley, the black modern barn structure located at the end of a very long drive was a beautiful sight. So were the golden vines that my children could play amongst while we ‘shopped’.
The last stop on our South Island adventure before catching the ferry was to pick up some crayfish from Nins Bin. Since 1973, Nins Bins has been serving fresh seafood to locals and passers by. With the ocean just steps from the point of purchase, it is no wonder this is some of the freshest seafood around.
As we watched the South Island disappear from view, I reflected back on all the amazing things we had experienced and the places we had been. New Zealand receives constant worldwide acclaim as being one of the most beautiful countries on this earth. While my passport is not nearly as full as I desire it to be, I have been to some pretty spectacular places. From the majesty of the Swiss Alps to the cobblestone alleys in Europe and the unforgettable blue of Morraine Lake in Canada, I have been very lucky to see some astounding scenery. So is New Zealand worthy of such praise? I may be a little biased but yes it is. What sets my country apart from the rest of the world is the indisputable fact that there is such incredibly diverse landscapes in such close proximity to one another. It certainly seems that around each bend in the road is something worth seeing.
Because of this blog, I have been asked by a few people for advice on what to see when they travel to New Zealand. After 2 weeks of ‘seeing’ the South Island, I can say this. If you only plan to spend a couple of weeks here, don’t aim to see too much. Yes I know that for most of the visitors here, this trip will be a once in a lifetime. Pick what you are passionate about (hiking, wine tasting etc) and focus on that.
I know how lucky my kids are when they casually remark “The next time we come here…” One day I hope they know it too.