Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Zealand, Days 11 & 12 - Dunedin and Christchurch

It's our final installment in the New Zealand Epic Adventure Series! We're on Day 11 now and according to my notes, you'll never guess this, but apparently it was another BEAUTIFUL DRIVE as we left Cromwell an headed east towards Dunedin! The good news is it was actually quite sunny as well!

I bet this lake is beautiful in the fall!

We saw green mountains, dry tundra, rocky cliffs, and sheep! And sheep perched on rocky cliffs! As we drove out of the mountains and into wine country we started seeing more and more vineyards and fruit stands. But then it also became harder to see anything because a thick and heavy fog settled in the valley. Seriously, right there is the sun--and look at that fog! So now we have sheep grazing in orchards under a layer of fog. If that isn't Jane Eyre-esque dreamy then I don't know what is!

It was going to be a long drive, and we were on Day 11, so it goes without saying that mama needed a coffee. But this is the "scenic southern drive" and not exactly prolifically humanized. In fact, most of the drive we couldn't even get cell phone service in order to look up a cafe. Finally, we rolled into a small town and Jon stopped for gas. Across the street was this little shop and I decided to give it a try. I had heard that New Zealand does coffee right no matter where you stop and I can now verify this testimony. If you ignore the garish marketing and giant plastic ice cream cone, inside you'll find three little old ladies working an expresso machine hidden amongst the hot dog stand and deli bar. So there's my NZ tip of the day: don't be afraid to stop for coffee!

We continued on our drive to Dunedin (pronounced dun-EDEN, not DOON-idin like I had been saying) and the landscape become more hilly and green, reminding me a little more of the North Island. The city was much bigger than I had anticipated. And also more hilly. It looked like all of Dunedin was built on an angle. I had read that it is an academic town, with a college and numerous bookstores, but that's not the type of exploring one does with small children. My impression was that it was extremely industrial, and that everybody owned a house with a chimney and every chimney was smoking. So much so that there was an actual cloud of smoke over the city that night!

Apparently the steepest residential road in the world is located in Dunedin but we didn't have a chance to scope it out. In fact, I only have one photo from our drive through town, and it's this one I took as an example of New Zealand architecture. I would describe the homes in this country as one of two varieties: Tiny Victorian Farmhouse (like this photo) or Boxy Glass-encased Contemporary, which I didn't get any photos of. But I appreciated the way the Kiwis incorporate large windows into their homes and was impressed that you generally weren't able to see into the houses despite these large sheets of glass. (Because I tried!)

Moving on ... visiting Dunedin wasn't on our original itinerary so we were basically shooting from the hip at this point. We decided to drive onto the Otago Peninsula and check out Larnach Castle. The peninsula itself was just beautiful! It was very similar to Coromandel on the North Island and apparently known for it's eco-tourism. But we weren't really there for that. So we just kept driving up and up and around and around on narrow winding roads. Like this one. I'm not even sure how the campervan fit under this hedge!

We made it to the top of the peninsula and to Larnach Castle. This was totally a Janine-stop--I kinda have a thing for historical estates. But the rest of the family wasn't too impressed. And the house had a creepy history involving financial ruin and suicide so that put a little damper on things. But it was a beautiful home with a beautiful garden AAAAANNNDDD, no surprise here, BEAUTIFUL VIEWS!

This is a photo of a postcard because the front elevation was undergoing some restoration while we were there.

View from the garden.

Like I said, Jon and the kids weren't exactly enthralled with touring a house so I attempted to redeem the visit with a stop at the cafe for warm fires and tea and biscuits, or a "Fluffy" (frothed milk with marshmallows) for the kids.

It was getting late and the sun was going down (early, because we're very far south at this point!) so we made our way off the Peninsula and stopped once more for groceries. This time we checked out a Pak and Save (which we decided is a cheaper place to get groceries) and then visited The Warehouse next door to purchase some super glue (to repair the table that some child fell on?!?) We then took a very confusing and winding drive around the city to park ourselves at Dunedin's Top 10 for the night. This was a sweet little campground, straight out of the 60s, and as usual, there was maybe one other campervan there that night. But it had a heated indoor pool! A very ancient and uninteresting heated indoor pool, but the kids didn't mind! There was also a playground that they enjoyed during our waning hours of daylight while I fixed a delicious dinner of soup, vegetables, and crackers.

Sidenote: the swimsuits we were wore in NZ are soo faded from all the pools and hot tubs we visited!

Look at that frost!!

There were board games painted onto all the picnic tables. Too bad it was just a touch too icy to play!
That night Jon surprised me by renting out the private spa nextdoor to the campground office. We locked the kids in the camper again and some random man working the front counter led us to the spa room and turned on the water and jets. Jon and I settled in ready to enjoy a few minutes of relaxation ... and then immediately started coughing and gagging. The amount of chlorine in the water and air was making our eyes itch and our throats burn. We tried to stick it out, but after a few more minutes of suffering, we decided it was more important that we keep ourselves alive so we could return to our children and make our flight back to Hawaii. So we bounced back out and let the front desk man know that while we appreciated the campground amenities, something was just not right with the spa! We stumbled and coughed our way back to the camper and thankfully lived through the night. To this day we still laugh about our attempt at a romantic night, but sometimes I wonder just how close to death we may have been!

We woke up on Day 12 and this is where all my notes from vacation abruptly end. We started our drive up the coast to return to Christchurch so we could fly out the next morning and things must've moved very quickly during our final 36 hours--too quickly for me to keep up!

Apparently, penguins are the thing on this side of the South Island. Jon and the kids had their hearts set on seeing a few so when a penguin sanctuary popped up on our radar we decided to give it a shot. And failed. Not only was it not prime penguin viewing season but the best opportunities occur at night and cost some serious coin. So we explored the grounds, spotted a few sea lions, and then were back on the road.

This is as far as our penguin encounter got!

No penguins in sight!

We did spot a few sea lions though!
 I was referencing our trusty NZ Frenzy book on the drive, trying to find one more sight to close out our tour of the South Island and to make up for dragging my family all over an old house the day before. And I was certain that location would be the Moeraki Boulders. These are spherical shaped rocks scattered along a stretch of beach on the east coast. And despite being just "a bunch of rocks" they really were very cool! Finding perfectly smooth and round boulders just lying on the beach was quite fascinating. And we also had fun exploring the coast and finding some beautiful shells and our own miniature boulders to bring home.

Some of the treasures we found!
On the road again, spotting sheep again. But this time we're on the very far east coast and can see all the way to those mountains in the west!
The rest of our drive was through farmland and rolling hills. We returned to Christchurch Top 10 for our final night in New Zealand and one last sleep in our beloved campervan! The sunset perfectly punctuated our experience spending 10 days in an RV--so golden, so rosy, ONLY GOOD MEMORIES! Never mind that we had to secretly super glue the table! Forget about that time someone fell off the toilet and broke down the bathroom door! Did we really all get motion sickness or was that just the giddiness of our adventures?!? WE CAN'T WAIT TO DO THIS AGAIN!

The sunset on our last night!
The next morning we took advantage of our final hours with wheels and visited a playground in Christchurch. But not just any playground. Pretty much the most amazing playground we've ever seen. My one friend who had visited here the year before recommended it to me. And the the kids and I did some googling and watched and re-watched a YouTube video about it in eager anticipation. It wasn't ranked up there on our to-do list along with Hobbiton or Cathedral Cove or the Luge, but it was definitely something we were hoping to squeeze in. And we did--just barely.

Despite it being cold, wet, and dreary the kids had a blast. I'm so glad they got in lots of playtime before we had to drag them off because things were about to go very sideways on our travel adventures. After 12 days of being on the road, it was bound to happen!

We took a quick flight from Christchurch back to Auckland that afternoon and had lots of time before our final flight back to Hawaii at midnight. Our plan was to rent a car and explore Auckland but after a lot of waiting and phone calls it became apparent that there were just no vehicles big enough for our family available to rent that day. Then we looked into storing our luggage at the airport so we could at least wander around the city unencumbered. That's when we discovered it would cost us several HUNDRED dollars to temporarily store our 5 bags. ??? And to top it all off, in the middle of all this, we found out our flight was being delayed over an hour and would now be leaving after 1:00am. Because it is so fun to try to herd 4 tired and travel-worn children around an airport after their bedtime.

Frankly, we were all tired and travel-worn and the thought of doing one.more.thing was just a little too much for me at that point. So I begged Jon to just book a hotel for us to hang out in for a few hours until our flight left. He eventually found a place that was able to accommodate our "large" family, and offered a shuttle to and from the airport. And to top it all off they had a pool and a restaurant. The pool started out sounding appealing but, like I said, things started moving downhill very fast this evening and even the thought of relaxing in a pool seemed like too much by the end of the day.

Dinner was something that couldn't be avoided and we were all looking forward to something a little more elaborate than a campervan meal. Unfortunately, this was one of those restaurants, er "dining experiences," that catered to the traveling businessman or bougie couple (i.e. NOT the family with 4 kids dressed in the comfy clothes they're planning to wear whilst flying on a red-eye.) And presumably this is why they didn't even open their doors until 6pm. Which meant not receiving our food until close to 7pm. Which meant we had some very tired, very silly children misbehaving around all those cloth napkins and crystal glassware. Bad memories that I'm choosing to push past.

Waiting for the restaurant to open.
We headed back up to our hotel room about 8pm with visions of everyone taking a "quiet rest" for two hours before we had to drag ourselves back to the airport. Instead, everybody was all hyped up on who-knows-what and jumped on the bed and watched TV most of the evening. And then all the kids fell asleep for our final 15 minutes in the room. Therefore, we had to try to wake them all back up and somehow finagle them and all our luggage back down to the hotel lobby to await the shuttle.

The lovely accommodations that we barely got to enjoy. Please note the wrestling session occurring on the bed.
The shuttle that was supposed to arrive every 30 minutes and yet never showed. After over an hour the concierge lady felt bad for us and absconded a hotel van to drive us to the airport herself. We appreciate her! The rest of the evening is one big blur--checking in, sleeping on benches at our gate, finally boarding the flight, feeling more tired than I've felt since having a baby and yet not being able to sleep on the plane ...

Everyone is sleeping ... except for me.
Thankfully they had us all sitting in the front row together and thankfully the kids had no problem falling sleep themselves. Or Jon for that matter. We had a lovely flight attendant who commented, sometime around 2am, that my children were so well behaved. I wanted to say, "Well yeah, they usually are at 2 in the morning." But instead I just smiled, said thank-you, and enjoyed the compliment because let's be honest, we don't get that one very much these days!

Then the breakfast carts started rattling, and the sun started rising, and soon we could see our hot and humid island off in the distance. Jon began unzipping the bottom of his conversion pants (that he had bought specifically for this occasion) in anticipation and I started laughing uncontrollably. Because after two weeks of traveling with four kids, and one night of very little sleep, everything was funny!

Check out that leave-status facial hair!
We landed and disembarked without a hitch! Our friend was waiting at the baggage claim to pick us up with venti Starbucks in hand. The sun seemed so much brighter and so much warmer after all that time living under "the long white cloud." And we were finally pulling into our friendly and familiar home! We had such a wonderful experience--the adventure of a lifetime, but it was good to be back!!

Would we do it again? Absolutely. In fact, we're planning on it. Sorta. We figured we should visit a new location that we haven't been to before, but we're all looking forward to returning to that campervan life again. Because, ONLY GOOD MEMORIES! But New Zealand did settle in our hearts, and we'll always hold on to that sliver of hope that in the future we could return (perhaps without kids!) and do all the things we missed on our first visit. Someday!
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