New Zealand Part II
Mt. Cook/Aoraki is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3700 meters (12,000 feet), it also one of four peaks that has snow all year around. We’re here in late February, which is late summer for them, and the top is still heavy with snow. We spent the morning driving through beautiful territory heading north and west of Queenstown and arrived in the late afternoon for our stay at the only hotel around for miles, The Hermitage. They had a variety of rooms, from your standard double to an A-Frame chalet for families, which is where we dropped our bags. We were excited to hit the hiking trail and get close up with some of the amazing scenery. There were six different trails from the hotel to choose from and the girls picked the one with a swinging bridge. It was late afternoon, so we had to hurry to get to the first bridge and went tramping (that’s Kiwi for hiking) on the well graded, crushed gravel path. The bridge lived up to our expectations, as it was a suspended, swinging bridge about 200 feet in length, made of cable and wood. It spanned a small river that came from the melting glacier runoff. The glaciers on Mt Cook created a pearlescent gray, silty looking river and lake which reminded us of something out of Mad Max movie. The sun was rapidly descending behind the western mountains and created a beautiful display of red, orange, and pink. We had a 45 minute hike to get back to the hotel so we turned back. The shadows soon took over the valley and darkness wasn’t far behind. As we were quickly walking, Bella tripped on a rock and skinned her knee. Jared wanted to make sure we kept moving so we didn’t get stuck in the dark so he told Bella in the words of the very famous Taylor Swift, to just Shake it Off. Bella was pretty sad about her skinned knee so Jared pulled out his phone and played Taylor Swift as loud as his phone would go and did his best Willard from Footloose imitation down the path to get her mind of her owie. Luckily this didn’t last long and we made it back in time for a good dinner.
After dinner and a very short power nap, we boarded a bus to take us out to the desert to do some stargazing. Here they had a couple of very knowledgeable, but amateur astronomers. They had set up four telescopes each focused on a different constellation. We saw Andromeda, Pegasus, The Milky Way, the Southern Celestial Pole and the Southern Cross for the first time, and understood now why we came this way………….(Crosby, Stills, and Nash). Between the altitude and the clear night, it was great star-gazing. It was also a late night and the girls and I were thoroughly chilled and tired so we climbed back on the bus to doze while Jared continued to gaze at the stars for a while longer before the bus returned to the hotel and our warm, cozy beds. Oh wait, there were no warm cozy beds because there was no heat in our room! We left our sweatshirts on and climbed into our cold sheets and shivered a bit before gradually warming up and drifting off to sleep.
Stargazing on Mt. Cook was wonderful and the glaciers are amazing to see. The four glaciers here are shrinking just like everywhere else in the world so if you want to see them get there quick. Whatever your stance is on climate change/global warming—you only need to look at the rapidly disappearing glaciers around the world to know that something is definitely different and it won’t be long until they have disappeared if something doesn’t change. Most of the countries we have visited have accepted it as reality because of their first hand experience—in South America, New Zealand, Southern Asia, and Africa. Glaciers are shrinking, dry places are getting drier or wetter, wet places are getting wetter or drier, temperatures are rising in some areas and falling in others. We might not see it in Northbrook, IL as plainly, but come to New Zealand or some of the other countries that we’ve been and there is no controversy, it is their reality. Renewable energy sources that enable us to reduce CO2 emissions and further damage to earth are important to the world… our children and grandchildren’s futures depend on it. Several of the places we have stayed have been very eco-conscious and we are trying to select this type of lodging whenever possible.
Ok enough editorial and on with our story…our time on Mt. Cook was too brief but it couldn’t be helped because we had a ferry to catch to the North Island, so we packed up the next morning and headed north to Picton. What a long drive that was—8 hours of winding roads through the beautiful countryside. All of the highways are primarily two lane so it is slow going—-but always gorgeous. We arrived in Picton with enough time to grab a quick dinner of good fish & chips, really bad hot dogs, and a couple of pints. As we strolled through the warm New England looking town, we gladly came across a public bathroom. This was no ordinary public bathroom, this was something out of the future. It was a small self-contained structure, made of brick on the outside, with a stainless steel panel by the door with instructions for use. It was all very simple; push the “door” button and the door briskly slides open like you’d see on the Starship Enterprise. Once you walk through, push the “lock” button to lock the door, the door closes. Then elevator music comes on and a Siri-like voice tells you that you have 10 minutes. So you’re standing in a 6×6 room with a toilet and a sink and pleasant instrumental music is playing. Not sure what would happen if you’re in there longer than 10 minutes, but we didn’t want to push it at risk of being teleported so we did our business and quickly moved to the wash and dry station. It was all in one; soap/water/dry all motion activated. Put your hands into the wash cubby and move your hands from left to right for soap, then the water came on for rinsing, and then began the air dryer to finish you up. To exit, push the door button again and the music stops, lights go out, and the door briskly slides open. Anyone interested in investing to bring them back to the states with us?
We boarded the ferry, car and all, and took a three-hour cruise across the Cook Strait to the North Island landing in Wellington. The ship was quite large, not Golden Princess huge, but it held about a half-dozen semi-trucks and at least 40 cars, and all of the people driving in them along with other passengers. There was plenty of space to roam around in, with large sections of airplane-like seats and a couple of lounge areas, which is where we settled in. They had an indoor play set which the kids had fun climbing around on as well as a TV playing cartoons. Lilli found a quiet corner to read on the Kindle—she has been reading the Percy Jackson series and is loving learning about Greek mythology in a tween story format. Jared and I worked on the computer and read since it was too dark outside to see anything during the trip. We headed to our hotel in Wellington and dropped into bed—very tired!
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand at the southernmost tip of the North Island on the Cook Strait. Its nickname is “Windy Wellington” so maybe it made us feel right at home since we live in the “Windy City” of Chicago. Jared and I both went running in the morning and fell in love with the adorable port town. We packed up our suitcases and left them with the bellman and headed for the harbor for lunch. Along the way, we ran into some New Zealand Girl Guides and bought Girl Guide Biscuits from them (Girl Scout cookies!). Lilli found us a cool restaurant to eat at with couches and comfy chairs on a balcony overlooking the harbor. We wished we could have stayed longer in Wellington but needed to hit the road to get to Rotorua for the night so we walked back to the hotel and drove north and east the next four hours. We arrived at a cute little B&B and discovered that when we booked the room we didn’t quite make the right selection. Our room was equipped with two twin beds—for the four of us…..ooops! Luckily there was another room available right next door with a double bed, so we all had a place to sleep. The couple that ran the B&B was really helpful and provided us with great advice on things to see and do. We enjoyed a hike through some small California Redwoods and hot spring and fed some hungry ducks (bread compliments of our hosts at the B&B) and then went to the Agrodome to enjoy a tour of the working farm, see sheep shearing, and a working dog show. On my trip to New Zealand 20 years ago I saw the same show and was glad to see it was still as I remembered it. The kids loved it and thank goodness there were no nicks on the sheep this time. The dogs were awesome—so talented and fun to watch. We also did a tour of the farm on a trailer pulled by a big IH tractor (Jared’s dad’s favorite brand) and the kids got to pet deer, llamas, alpacas, pigs, and other animals. Jared and I got to taste Kiwi fruit wine and rode back to the main building through the Kiwi grove.
Auckland was next on our list and we decided to try a different type of hotel—sort of a hostel/hotel. It was a learning experience….while the room was quite large and sort of loft style—our quality of sleep was poor with no air conditioning and loud street sounds. It was inexpensive and I guess we got what we paid for. We spent our time in Auckland at a couple of museums and walking the shopping areas. We went to Orbit 360 in the Sky Tower for dinner and were treated to amazing views. We could see all over Auckland and enjoyed the bird’s eye view of the ocean, city, and countryside. Ironically, we spotted the huge yacht that we had happened to see pulling out of Akaroa during our dolphin cruise there—the Serene—a boat that is an easily recognizable anywhere in the world.
We sort of short-changed the North Island on the amount of time allocated and need to go back someday to do it justice. New Zealand is such a beautiful country with changing zones/landscapes and variety—I think we could spend several months there and still leave wanting more.
The next morning we were up at 3am, packed up Mabel (our rental car) and dropped her off at the airport. Now, this was a different airport than where we picked her up originally and I wasn’t exactly sure of where to go for this return. Also our time was a little tight because we need A LOT of time to check in at every airport. (I’ll explain more on this later). I dropped off Jared with the girls and suitcases and drove around looking for the Jucy Rental Car return. (When you rent with a bargain rental company—it’s almost always off property—which is less convenient and time consuming—and at this point I am feeling like it really isn’t worth the time/effort) Since, I couldn’t find the rental car return even though I had plugged it into the GPS—AND I was really pressed for time—so I dropped off Mabel at the Thrifty lot next to the departures area. I sent a note to rental company via email with pictures to let them know where I left her. Only in New Zealand…….. they were very understanding and had no problem with my alternate drop off site. We reluctantly said goodbye to New Zealand and headed back to Australia…… to spend time in Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, and Brisbane. Stay tuned for one of the best family photos of the trip.