Well Hello Queenstown  

Leaving Wanaka was bittersweet.  We spent the morning attending the local ANZAC ceremony (more on that later) which included beautiful bagpipes and bi planes flying over the lake.  We then hopped in the car to drive the spectacular Crown Range Road which connects Wanaka to Queenstown.  Our first stop was the Cardrona Hotel which has many honours, including being the most photographed pub in New Zealand.  Established in 1863, it has retained its charm and managed to thrive all these years without falling prey to the gift shop trap.  The kids had a ball running around the garden and we had a ball watching them.  After a rather leisurely lunch, we drove the remaining 40 scenic minutes to Queenstown.

If by any chance, anyone is reading this blog and thinking, “I want to go THERE!” , I need to warn you about something.  You will not relax here. It is, how you say, impossible.  Maybe because I have lived away for so long and maybe because my time here has an expiration date and I feel the need to see everything, but this place makes you tired.  New Zealand is a place to get after it.  I have come to the recent conclusion that the reason kiwis travel overseas so frequently is to relax…

Queenstown is no exception. Rather it is the center of the ‘problem’. Known as the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere and the home of bungy jumping, among other dangerous pastimes, it is a place to get really knackered. In a good way. I think.  We had 4 nights in Queenstown and a hotel that allowed us some ‘separation’. I pictured some R and R. I was wrong.


Go Poppy and J!!


You can not help yourself here. There is SO much to see and do.  Within hours of arrival, we were luging down a mountain.  See what Queenstown did there?  Drive in to town, drop bags at the hotel, head straight in to town where you immediately take gondola up the mountain and luge down…repeat last steps over and over again.  Tate said it was the best day of his life.  

The next day we left Queenstown to see Milford Sound.  Rudyard Kipling described it as the eight wonder of the world.  Granted that was a while ago…1891 to be exact but I thought this fact would give my blog a more academic flavour.  The drive to Milford Sound is almost more beautiful than the actual destination.  



The drive to Milford Sound takes approximately 4 hours.  You can either take a sightseeing cruise or start hiking the famed Milford Track or do a short hike, continually remind your children about that 8th wonder of the world thing and get right back in the car because your nice hotel wins over camping. We chose the last option.

  I brought Jeff to Milford Sound in 1998 and he thought it was closed.  Thankfully, because it is already difficult to get to in a country that is, difficult to get to, it remains uncrowded and spectacular.  That Rudyard Kipling was a very smart fellow.  More Queenstown sights on the blog tomorrow.


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More South Island Adventures

After spending an incredible afternoon on Wharariki beach, we headed to our motel in the tiny town of Collingwood.  After a quick dinner and showers, we put the kids to bed and sat outside our unit with our plastic chairs and wine, talking about the day and watching the gorgeous sky.  

Collingwood, with a population hovering around 240 people, is tiny.  I have never stayed in such a small town.  The next morning, we walked out the back door of our motel, across the street to a charming little old house that is now a restaurant.  The food was incredible and the coffee was the best we have ever had.  I am a new addict but Jeff considers himself worthy of saying it is the best coffee. Ever.  



From Collingwood, we headed further south along the west coast of the South Island.  It is a part of New Zealand known for its ruggedness.  It is remote and wild and unlike anywhere else in New Zealand.  From stunning, deserted beaches to rainforests that seem unending, this is a drive everyone should take.  The west coast gives you a sense of an unchanged New Zealand.  Imagine Big Sur, Costa Rica and Maui one turn in the road after another.  This place could turn boys in to men in no time.  


One of the reasons that the West Coast is not more populated is the lack of accessibility.  And the weather.  It can be quite rainy on the west coast so we were not surprised when it poured down for most of our day long drive.  We did get to see the famous Punakaiki rocks or the Pancake rocks as they are also known.


That night, after a long day of driving, we finally made it to Franz Joseph.  Due to the heavy rain that showed no signs of stopping, the small town was choc full of sad tourists who had to delay or cancel their glacier hikes.  We didn’t plan on taking the kids up on the glaciers because

  •  It can be quite dangerous and the thought of Poppy with crampons on did not make me happy
  • I didn’t want to spend $1000
  • I wanted to save some things for our next visit
  • I didn’t want to spend $1000

So we were the happy family in the corner of the pub, thrilled to be out of the car and the rain.  The kids didn’t know they had missed out on taking a helicopter to the top of a glacier and we didn’t tell them.  We did buy them dessert that night…

Our next stop was the beautiful town of Wanaka.  We arrived by early afternoon to the most stunning Autumn day.  After checking in to our apartment, we walked in to town to grab lunch and explore.  The small town is built around the spectacular Lake Wanaka which serves as a back drop to year round fun.  There is skiing in the winter and every water sport imaginable in the summer.  Originally a gold rush town, the secret is out and the population is growing exponentially.  


Not too long ago, I had casually mentioned to my girlfriend that I wanted to climb Roy’s peak.  It is a popular hike in Wanaka that has been on my list.  I should know better than to mention things like that to said girlfriend.  The next day, she and her husband had arranged for family to watch their two beautiful girls and they had booked flights to Wanaka.  Uh oh.  So I did what I do best, I researched the hell out of the hike.  I read reviews that mentioned words like ‘easy’ and ‘gentle’ and then I read reviews that used words like ‘dying’ and ‘painful’…I asked so many random strangers on Instagram who posted their enviable pics how they found it/how long did it take/did you hire a Sherpa/are you an Olympic athlete???  I also had to book a babysitter for my kids.  I have never used a babysitting service while away in a strange place.  Thankfully, at 7am the morning after arriving in Wanaka, I opened the door to meet Bess, the greatest babysitter in the entire world.  

And then said friends Bindi and Derek were at our door and we were off.  God. Help. Me.  


Now New Zealanders have the worldwide reputation of being tough.  Tougher than tough.  Any one who has traveled the world seems to have some “I met some kiwis in – who were crazzzzyyyyyy” stories.  New Zealanders invent things to test your will and your desire to live.  I have been gone a long time and at 42, I may not be the best representation of that brand of kiwi, if I ever was.  But I made it.  WE made it!  After reaching the top (it was no Everest so I will decline from using the word summit) and enjoying the stunning views, we climbed half way down and enjoyed a mountain picnic.  Thanks to my Sherpa/husband, we had champagne and the most stunning scenery to enjoy it with. 


 After making it down the mountain, we headed to a pub to, essentially, pat ourselves on the back with more alcohol.  We then spied my youngest, flying around the skate park across the street on a scooter.  I texted Bess who said that they had found 3 scooters at the recycling place and my kids were having the time of their lives.  I could see them from where I sat, with Jeff and my dear friends, that my kids were being taken care of and loved.  They had had the best day with Bess and I was so thankful.  

Like everywhere in New Zealand, my amateur photos do not do this place justice.  This place deserves every accolade it has ever received.  I am learning that I do not have to climb mountains to embrace my countries heritage, but I do need to be bold.  It felt bold to trust a complete stranger to take care of my kids.  If felt bold to climb higher than I have ever climbed before. And that’s not just a line from a horrible Miley Cyrus song.  We all spent a day out of our comfort zones and we are all better because of it.  

Seal Pups and Chambray

To the many (two) fans (relatives) who wanted to know if I am still blogging, the answer is yes.  Our holiday was jam packed and I am now planning an actual relaxing break.  In August.  The next adventure for the Dimpled Explorers brought us to the famed region of New Zealand known as Golden Bay.  After extending our stay in Kaiteriteri, we only had one day and night to experience some pretty amazing places.  Time to get a move on.

The first stop was Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs) which is a place of spiritual significance to the Maori people.  The springs are a waahi tapu (a sacred place) and signs are posted at the entrance asking that the waters be respected and not touched.  The springs are also famous for their water clarity which has been measured at 63 meters and until 2011, was considered second only to the sub glacial water in Antartica.  The clear waters were a beautiful sight and you could feel the reverence all around you.  If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting this place.



Our next stop was the gorgeous Wharariki Beach.  After parking our car and dodging the two peacocks in the car park, we walked for 30 minutes across rolling farm lands and massive dunes to arrive at the most stunning beach.  This beach, in its scale, reminded me of Canon Beach in Oregon (of the movie The Goonies fame) but with far less people.  





Within minutes of stepping on to the sand, we found rock pools full of seals and their pups.  They were wild and free and beautiful.  Just as they should be.  We were respectful and careful of the seals and stayed a safe distance. Surprisingly, they came to us, curious.


A certain seal pup found Poppy and Tate’s shorts too tempting and tried to bite them.  Clearly a seal pup after my own heart with a taste for chambray.   These are the moments that my children will remember.  Or I hope they will.  But that is the mystery of ones childhood, what sinks in and what doesn’t.  It’s anyone’s guess.  As I watched my kids throwing their football and skipping through the shallow water, I did a very adult thing.  I lost that living in the moment thing and wondered how they would ever be able to enjoy another beach again.  The beach that we travel to in Florida is beautiful but never this uncrowded.  And then I remembered the true gift of childhood is that they do not compare and contrast anything.  Things are not better or worse than fill in the blank.  They are only capable of being in the now.  Long may that continue.

Palm Trees and Water Taxis…

School Holidays-Part Two    
For our second day of hiking the Abel Tasman National Park, we chose a slightly shorter itinerary with the boat leaving at 9:30am and returning at 4.  We saw more golden beaches and seal pups sunning themselves on the rocks.  One of the many benefits of the park is the terrain is truly accessible for everyone.  There are very few steep changes in elevation and you are in charge of the length of your stay. 

 
  

   
That night, when I rang my nephew for his birthday, I spoke to my oldest brother who asked where I was.  When I told him the Abel Tasman (he thought I was heading straight to Queenstown), he gave me a very detailed history lesson on all of my family connections to the Abel Tasman.  There is a large grove of trees in Totaranui which was planted by my ancestors.  My Grandmother was born in Awaroa in 1900.  The Pitt Head track was named after my family…I knew none of this.  Part of this is not surprising due to the fact that history is not, and has never been my strong suit.  Unless you count the times Jeff has really made me angry and then I turn in to a historian that could have earned a PhD…

I do believe that had I not been gone for so long, I would know these stories.  Or at least some of them.  After I got off the phone with my brother, I repeated all that he had told me to my kids.  It went something like this.

“Hey!  Remember that Pitt Head track that we hiked yesterday??”

“No.”

“It is named after my family!”

“Cool Mum.”

Clearly they aren’t history buffs either…

    
After two full on days, we decided to extend our stay in Kaiteriteri one more day and just relax.  With views from our Bach like this, who could blame us?

  
Our history certainly has a hand in shaping us but it does not define us.  Children are masters at staying in the moment and not worrying about tomorrow.  Unless you take their iPod away and tell them they can’t have it back until tomorrow.  Then the future becomes very important indeed…

Planes, Boats and Automobiles

School Holidays-Part One 
Because I am not famous and I don’t have people who capture all of the big, amazing moments in my life, you will just have to take me at my word that Jeff’s reunion with his kids was beautiful.  There was little talking and lots of heavy hugging and then lots and lots of talking and sharing and laughing.  Then 48 hours after arriving, we dragged our only non-dimpled member in to our trusty Black Betty (everyone names their cars right?) and then on to a ferry headed for the South Island.

  
The kids had 2 weeks of school holidays and I planned to spend every hour of them on the South Island.  The ferry that connects the North and the South Islands takes 3 and a half hours to cross the Cook Strait.  Depending on the weather, it can be very pleasant or very…memorable.  I may or may not have taken the ferry the morning after a tennis tournament in my teen years which left me very, very sick.  I still maintain that it was the rough crossing not the drinks the night before that made me ill…This time around, I stayed out on the boat deck by choice to watch the North Island disappear from view and the South Island present itself in all its majesty.  It is without question, the most scenic of the two islands and I was so excited to rediscover it with my family.  Tate spotted 3 dolphins just before we pulled in to Picton.  It was a spectacular welcome.  

    

   Our first stop was my family church in Koromiko.  It was established in 1871 and although in need of some paint, remains just as I remember it.  My great, great grandparents donated the gates that my children walked through.  Services are still held there once a month.  It is called St John in the Wilderness and it is aptly named. I much prefer this photo of my children than the last one taken of me in the same spot.  I believe there was neon involved… 

  
Unlike Wellington, Autumn in the South Island is in full swing.  The gold and red hues that I am used to were a welcome reminder of the current season.  Day One ended in Nelson with an early night for all because we all had a very big day ahead of us tomorrow..

We woke early and drove to the beautiful beach town of Kaiteriteri.  After dropping our bags off at our bach(Kiwi for small holiday house), we headed to the beach.  We then caught a water taxi to our drop off location in the Abel Tasman National Park.  We had picked one of the longest day hikes offered and hoped Poppy could handle the distance.  Our boat left at 9am and we wouldn’t be back until 6pm.

  

  

  

Golden sandy beaches.  Completely deserted.  This is the magic of the Abel Tasman National Park.  Each time we emerged from the beautiful native bush, a beach like this revealed itself.  Our kids seemed unfazed by the isolation as they ran from one end of the beach to the other.  During the entire day, we encountered 16 people on our day long hike.  This is the great benefit of existing near the bottom of the world and one of the many reasons that New Zealand remains largely unspoiled.  The long flight and the cost weeds out those that want to see New Zealand from those that need to see it. 

  

    

  
Three very tired and very happy hikers.  Until they found out tomorrow was going to look a lot like today…

Airport Bound

  Photo by Leslee Mitchell Photography
  
When I was away at University in the States, I would call home as often as I could rationalise with the cost.  Calling collect only works if your in prison, or atleast about to be.  I was attending a small school in Kentucky before Lord of the Rings was made.  No one knew anything about New Zealand.  I can’t tell you how many people complimented me on my English.  Calling home and hearing a familiar voice on the other end kept me going.  As I was preparing to go home for the first time in a year, I remember my Mother telling me “Don’t put us up on a pedestal.  We are the same people we were when you left.”  My Mother is a very bright woman.  We all have a tendency to rewrite history.

Today is a big, big day.  Today, my children get their Dad back.  And I get my man back.  And it gets difficult to get a seat in a restaurant again.  It has been 9 weeks which is far too long for all of us.  When Jeff last saw Poppy, she couldn’t read.  Last night, she read a Dr Seuss book to her brother and sister.  I am so thankful for this gift that Jeff has given us.  He encouraged me to take our kids on an experience of a lifetime, knowing that he couldn’t come.  When I doubted the sanity of my idea, he pushed me to perservere.  

I am not rewriting history when I say that we are a stronger family when he is with us.  And when he leaves again in 3 weeks, we will be really, really sad.  But I predict for much different reasons than when he left us in February.  This time, we will be sad to know that our time here is half way over.

Prior to this adventure, New Zealand belonged to me.  It was “Where Mum grew up and why we get in trouble if we call her Mom.”  In 11 weeks that has all changed.  New Zealand is now part of them.  It is in their soul.  Yesterday, I watched all three of my children get up on their school stage and sing in their Kapa Haka group (Maori performing arts).  They sang 2 songs in Maori with big smiling faces.  This is their country too now.  They are making their own way here.  

And when we return to the US in July, if my kids want to put New Zealand on a pedestal, it’s okay with me.  I certainly do.

Pumpkin Spiced What???

  
I love love love Autumn in Nashville.  As the heat of the summer disappears, I welcome the chance to turn off the air conditioning, throw open the windows and get outside again!  And as someone who is far from their physical best, putting the shorts away in favour of leggings (no debate here-they are definitely considered pants in my closet) is a happy calendar day.  I can rock a cable sweater with the best of them.  There is always next summer…

Autumn is choc full of fun.  Everyone seems to put their differences aside and join each other in celebrating the end of sweating while walking to check the letterbox.  And the death of mosquitos.  And not having to put sunscreen on your kids.  And see your kids go back to school.  Yes I know there are Mothers out there that claim they are sad when their 10 weeks of togetherness comes to an end but they are not my people.  The entire month of June is a mind numbing routine of breakfast/sunscreen/swim team/pool for hours/repeat and I can’t wait to pack the kids and husband in to the car for a month on the open road where cooler temps beckon…   

We arrived in New Zealand on the 29th of January to the best summer in 40 years.  The weather has been nothing short of incredible.  According to the calendar, Autumn is in full effect here but it is difficult to tell.  In the States, Autumn means our weekends are packed with pumpkin patch visits(kiwis don’t ask), leaf piles that beg to be jumped in, weather perfect for entertaining outside and an endless rotation of s’mores for the kids and delicious New Zealand Pinot Noirs for Jeff and I. From the pumpkin spiced latte that the baristas peddle at every opportunity to front porches decorated with pumpkins and hay bales, it’s in your face amazing.  But it’s exhausting.  I always find myself trailing behind my kids stealing lollies from strangers (otherwise known as Halloween) breathing the crisp air and secretly counting down the minutes until the said thieves are satiated and we can all go home and relax.

Here in Wellington, everything is still green.  Autumn, as far as I can tell, is simply a season to slow down and enjoy the different veggies on offer from the farmers market or the new menu at your favourite local bistro.  It is the start of Rugby season and roasts on a Sunday.  The pace in an already relaxed country seems to relax even further. Pure heaven.  And have we talked about the red wine game in New Zealand??

Last week, my girlfriend and I headed to a lovely local restaurant in the heart of the city for lunch.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Pumpkins!  They were casually piled up and provided just the right pop of colour to this beautifully simple space.  The menu reflected the Autumn season and everything was delicious.

         
   

  
 
Soon after I return to Nashville, summer will be winding down (kids will be going back to school!) and the usual anticipation for Autumn will begin.  I plan on taking a page out of my kiwi playbook and pushing pause more often.  But not before stocking up on wine and s’mores…