We woke up on our 9th morning to frost on the windshield and ice on the roads. The motorway was so sketchy that we passed an overturned campervan that had slid on an icy patch. So we were very careful to take it easy and enjoy the views, because of course--the drive was gorgeous.
It got super foggy as we were driving into the Cromwell area. We decided to make a pit stop at Wild Earth for coffee and a peek at the canyon. There we spotted a jet boat zooming over the river. We already had plans to try this at our destination so it was fun to get a glimpse of our upcoming adventure.
We continued on our route through Arrowtown and stopped over at the Shotover Jet--a thrill ride that had come highly recommended by our friends. Originally, the plan was for just Jon and the boys to ride but (while wearing rain boots and her monkey hat) Joci just barely made the height requirement. So we made a snap decision to include the whole family.
I'm so glad we did because (a) it was super-duper fun, in fact, all the kids will tell you this was the absolute highlight of their vacation and (b) this ended up being our Christmas family photo.
I had no idea what we were getting into. Fast boat. Cold river. It sounded pretty straightforward to me. I didn't know what the big fuss was about. But it's actually a really crazy fast boat (up to 90km/h) that can travel over incredibly shallow water (5-6 cm.) And then you have the additional thrill of skimming past jagged rocks and roaring through narrow canyons, with a few 360s thrown in for good measure. It was rrrreeeeeaaallllyyy cold (for us Hawaiians), like 40 degrees, plus you have the wind and water spray to contend with. But Joci's smile through it all was just the very best--even if it was completely frozen on her face!
We hung out in the gift shop for a few extra minutes to get warmed up and then it was back in the campervan to continue on into Queenstown--a quaint little town built on the side of the mountains overlooking a lake. And the views? Well, they were remarkable. I mean, they were of "The Remarkables," a seriously impressive chain of snow-capped mountains. Queenstown was bustling, thanks in part to its plethora of ski resorts and winter activities. It was the busiest area we had visited outside of Auckland.
There's a second luge here that the kids had requested we visit but we couldn't find a place to park. Thankfully, there is a holiday park called Lakeview Park just down the road. We got a camping spot for the night that overlooked the lake and was a short walk to both downtown or the gondola up the mountain.
This luge was much busier than the last one and for some reason the kids had a harder time. It was still fun though and it wasn't raining so we got some great photos at the top! And of course, we all enjoyed warming up with hot beverages at the mountaintop coffee shop.
That evening we walked downtown to the waterfront to book our tickets for an activity the next day. There we listened to a man playing guitar and singing a duet with his dog before heading over to the famous Fergburger for dinner. Unfortunately, the line was way too long for a hungry family of 6. So we stepped in to London Pizza next door instead. And we actually really enjoyed it! Jude said it was his favorite meal of the trip!
The next morning we had a scheduled cruise onboard the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak Station--a working sheep farm. As much as we wanted to attempt Milford Sound, it was a very cloudy day and it would have meant more traveling and less time to get back to the airport later that week. So we cut off that portion of our trip. It may be one of our biggest regrets, but we have no way of knowing if we could have made it work!
The Earnslaw is an old steamboat that cruises the lake. It's very large with lots of areas to explore. There's also a full-service bar and coffee shop area as well as a piano with live entertainment! It was a clear yet cold day on the lake as we traveled to Walter Peak. Once we disembarked, we visited the barn where we watched sheep shearing and herding. We even got to take home some wool! (Although I have no idea what to do with it.)
Afterwards was morning tea, which I (no surprise here) thoroughly enjoyed. The scones were amazing! I asked for the recipe, but it turns out it's in metric measurement and meant to feed a very large crowd. Someday I'll attempt to replicate! The tea room was darling and our family got prime seats overlooking the garden.
From there, we got to feed and pet the shop, alpaca, cows, and deer. As well as score a few photos for the memory book. We made a quick stop at the gift shop for some junky souvenirs for the kids--Joci got a plastic toy that moos (and continues to moo to this day) and Jack got a splat ball that he promptly through against the steamboat window that he immediately discovered was not actually closed. So he got to enjoy his gift for all of 5 minutes. :(
On the way back they passed out music and all of us on the lower deck had a sing-a-long with the pianist. It was getting late in Queenstown and the sun sets early. Although our original plan was to spend two days there, we decided that since we were no longer planning to travel any further south, we might as well get a hard start on our trip back north.
So we drove to Cromwell, the next town over, and booked a campsite at the Top 10 there. Unfortunately, we discovered too late that their spa was closed. (Because as you know by this point, hot tubs are a driving force in our decision making.) We found out about a "aquatic center" in town--picture something like a YMCA that doesn't requirement a membership. So we ended up getting unlimited pool and hot tub time for $15 for the entire family. It was a nice break but awkwardly local. I'm quite certain we were the only non-Cromwell residents there, let alone the only non-New Zealand residents. The kids didn't mind and the hot tub was certainly a welcoming sight after 10 days of traveling.
There wasn't much to do or see in Cromwell other than vineyards and fruit farms. Oh, and bungee jumping! But that wasn't something we were looking to attempt this trip. So we called it a night after dinner and a movie--pre-made tortellini and another beloved En Zed cucumber before watching "Big Hero 6."
The next morning we'd start our long trek back to Christchurch. We were all getting a little worn out by this point in our adventure but there was still plenty to see and do before we could return to our tropical home!