Where we've been: Auckland, Wellington, Blenheim, and Christchurch
*NOTE: I know I've been posting a lot recently. Life has slowed down for a bit and I've been able to catch up. This will be my last blog for a while as we embark on a 3 week road trip through the South Island without WIFI. You'll get a reprieve from all these updates I promise! Hope you enjoy!
As we descended into Auckland, the sun was setting. Gorgeous New Zealand!
We've made it to our final country on our 4 month journey, New Zealand or Aotearoa- Land of the long white cloud. It took us a flight delay and 11 hours but we made it from Seoul to Auckland (the largest city in the north with a pop. of 1.6 million people). We had to stay for one night at the fabulous airport Holiday Inn (that's a whole other tale) but our next destination was Wellington, the capital!
We made it to Wellington and our first stop was to an outdoor clothing store. It was much colder in Wellington even though it's spring and we needed layers and hats and gloves.
We took their famous cable car up to Kelburn which is at the top of one of the many hills that overlooks the city.
The view was fabulous but too bright for Fay. It was actually the one day we had sunshine while we were there.
There was a lovely walk down the hill through Botanic gardens and to a nearby peace pond with ducks! The peace flame that glows there is in honor of New Zealand being a nuclear-free-weapon-zone. The pond is in the style of a Japanese garden and the flame was donated by Hiroshima city. It was a beautiful site.
The next day we walked along the city pier to Te Papa, the free national museum of NZ. Our favorite exhibit was all about the crazy natural history and animals that live/lived in NZ like the giant Moa.
And the deep sea angler fish! There were all kinds of crazy animals of the sea and so many flightless birds I'd never heard of that live in NZ. Also there are no native mammals in NZ which was a surprising but true fact!
After the museum, we walked down funky Cuba street which has many independent shops and restaurants. The majority of restaurants around Wellington were Asian which is ironic since we just left Asia after 2 months and wanted to try NZ food. However, we ate Thai food anway ;)
We were lucky enough to find a Circus class for Fay. She was able to attend and absolutely loved it!
Afterwards we looked out at the Mt. Victoria viewpoint to see the 360 degree views of the city and we became rabid mammals.
As we walked to the bottom of the overlook, the weather got cooler and windier which is what Wellington is known for. We bundled up to walk along the beach.
But the crazy New Zealanders were swimming in the frigid waters! They were no joke brave or just insane!
Our final day there, we headed to Zealandia, an ecosanctuary for native birds and lizards. It again was cool and windy but the animals were out and so unique!
We saw the Takahe, flightless birds native to NZ who were thought to be extinct but one was discovered in 1948. Now there are 400 left.
Fay found a tiny Tuatara, it looks like a lizard but it is from another lineage. They can live to be 100 years old and have a 3rd eye on top of their heads. Maori view them as being the guardians of knowledge. They didn't move much while we were there so I think they were preserving their energy and wisdom!
It was time to head to the south island so we jumped on the 3.5 hour ferry to cross the Cook Strait. It was windy and cold so we thought it would be a rough ride but it was surprisingly calm and the ferry was fantastic. They had tons of comfortable seating and even a kids play area. We all enjoyed the ride and views.
We were met by my kind and generous cousin Ken who would host us for the next week in the Marlborough Sounds and in Blenheim (the nearby bigger town which is the main place for wineries!).
His house was so unique and built to overlook the sounds. When I say breathtaking, I'm not exaggerating! Highlights included: looking through his telescope to see Jupiter, Saturn, and the bright full moon, relaxing and doing puzzles, playing card games, hiking at night to find glowworms, and sleeping in. It was so nice not having to move every few days and to be in a house with home cooked meals. What a nice way to recharge. Plus we had some time to plan our next stops.
We also checked out a local beach called Ocean Bay.
Took hikes around his property where these giant ferns grew all over.
After all that activity, we got to relax in the hot tub on the deck. Bliss! But we had to leave and get to Blenheim for Halloween.
Ken found us a Halloween party at a local church that had carnival games, fried foods, and face painting. Fay had a blast being a cat and playing with other little people. They just started celebrating Halloween in NZ in the past 5 years. So it was surprising to see so many families dressed up and even more surprising to hear so many languages spoken. Ken told us that the local wineries attract people from all overt he world to visit and work in Blenheim (a town of only 30,000 people).
The next day we did some wine tasting at 2 vineyards- Whitehaven and Framingham (note: Fay is only pretending to drink although she really wanted to try the wines). If you see either of these brands in the stores in the US, get them! They were so delicious. The area is known for the Sauvignon Blanc wine but really everything we tried was fantastic. Plus the weather here was perfect! They claim to be the sunniest place in NZ and I'd agree!
Other highlights of Blenheim included: eating at the Vine cafe (see above pic), playing (or trying to play) Pickleball with Ken and friends, Fay doing a gymnastics class, learning new games, and enjoying a nearby playground. We had a great time with Ken as our host but it was time to head south to Christchurch- the 2nd biggest city and where we'd be renting our RV for our South Island road trip.
We took a 5 hour bus ride south to Christchurch where we went by vineyards, through hillsides, and along the awesome coastline where seals were playing in the waters. Then we headed straight to the airport Campervan/RV rental shops (not so scenic) to make sure we had a ride for our 3 week journey. After a few hours and some phone calls we secured a Euro Camper Deluxe. We will pick it up in a few days after exploring Christchurch.
We took a tram around the city center and learned about the history of Christchurch especially about the rebuilding of the city after the devastating 2011 earthquake. It destroyed 80% of the central downtown area and killed 160 people. They are still rebuilding and it's interesting to see the new designs and new housing going up. The place we're staying is a town house that is very modern.
We also strolled through their famous Botanic garden. Christchurch's nickname is "The Garden City" and it showed why.
They had cool parks and green spaces all over the city including this Margaret Mahy park. It's named after a local author and librarian and was fun or all of us!
Our last full day we took a mini road trip to Akaroa about 1.5 hours outside of the city on the east coast to do a dolphin boat tour.
Onboard was a dolphin sniffing dog named Albie (aka Fay's best friend. Don't tell Nia!). He rested most of the time but when it was time to tell us dolphins were nearby, he would perk up and listen. Dogs can hear the echolocation of the dolphins. It was so cool since he worked to help us!
We found dolphins with Albie's help! The one's that live in Akaroa bay are known as Hector dolphins. They are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. They loved playing alongside the boat and were tiny things. We were mesmerized!
We headed back to Christchurch to pack up and get ready for our road trip. We were sad to leave Christchurch since we all really enjoyed our time but we're excited to hit the road! We will be traveling around the whole South Island for 3 weeks. I probably won't have much WiFi while on the road but I'll send an update when we return to a city.
Fay's hitting the pavement!
Hope you have a wonderful November and Thanksgiving (if you celebrate)!
I am grateful to you all! See you soon!