Yes! We survived another ferry ride! We took the ferry over from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island. Carlos and I were both a bit worried as every so often the waters in these parts can get a bit hairy in the midway point of the 3 hour ferry ride. By hairy, I mean Rapunzel-worthy!
The worst thing to do is google these moments the night before a scheduled departure online. The videos captured make the Titanic look like a children’s Disney Ride. We all ingested some pills called, SeaLegs the night before. I slept the entire ride but it worked. Carlos’ family was there to pick us up in our ten passenger van that was to be our form of transportation for the next four days until we picked up our CamperVans. We were super excited to see family and the kids were jumping for joy to meet up with their cousins from Austin again. Ella, Cruz, and Enzo are super close. They love Paloma and she does her damnedest to keep up with the big kids. They handle her well and Ella can be a wonderful helper at times.
I love my in-laws, my sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews. Adore them and feel that I hit the lottery when it comes to having them in my life. However, looking back, I think we all underestimated how much of a change it would be to going from a four person traveling team to a ten person team overnight living in very small quarters, and making decisions with 6 different opinions. That being said, Alexia, Carlos’ sister has spent quite a bit of time in NZ, so we gave up the reigns and she planned the entire South Island Trip. She did a wonderful job and we got to see a lot in a very short amount of time.
After hugging and shedding tears of joy from seeing family again, we became the GrisRod-HoopRod traveling circus for the next 27 days. Our first stop was enjoying lunch in Picton at a park, overlooking the Bay. The kids were in heaven to be playing with their cousins again. They are so incredibly close. Almost like twins, albeit without the fighting. I am biased however, I feel like their imaginations are always so incredible and on overdrive when they are together. I know this innocence will not last forever. It is so cool to watch them create a village out of drift wood and explore nature with such an open mind.
I know this trip gifted us one extra year of playfulness with Cruz as he was forced to be with his younger sister daily. He had to adapt to Paloma’s playing expectations and lets just say she is now a rockstar at MineCraft.
After lunch, we headed to Nelson to drop of our extra luggage at Alexia and Scott’s home. They bought an investment property a few years back in Nelson. The house is super cool and right on the ocean. They have tenants who rent the house, however, being that it is summer break, we were able to stay in the house for ten days upon our return from camping. That first day we had to pare down our backpacks in order to make room for life in a camper van and small accommodations.
We then had dinner at a restaurant in town called, The Apple Bag and it was awesome. Carlos had the fish and a few others had the Famous New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels. After dinner we headed to the Mapua Chalets for the night. Before going to bed we looked out at the sky and saw a beautiful view of stars that would not stop. The stars lit up the sky and it was pretty awesome. I literally felt like I was on the moon.
In the morning we started our drive down the West Coast of the Island. Ten people in a huge traveling van. Extremely windy roads and two kids that get car sick. Thank God for Dramamine. I myself had to sit in the front of the car. (This was something we discussed prior to renting the van.) I was completely fine paying extra for the car as long as I secured my spot in the front. I get extremely sick sitting in the back seat and I knew this was going to be ten days of driving in and out of the curvy mountains.
Our first stop was a small town called, Murchison. Alexia wanted to show us the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, which is the largest swing bridge in New Zealand. The pictures do not do justice on how scary and intimidating this bridge is for someone who is somewhat afraid of heights.
We paid our fee to cross and about ten steps onto the bridge as I am griping the sides with all my might, Paloma starts to cry and I agree to turn back with her. While waiting for her cousins to return to our side of the bridge she says “Mom, we have to do this. We have to be brave and get to the other side.” I said “Ok” and we were on our way for the second time. We made it 1/2 way across and at this point, we were standing over the rushing water below. I see a lady from the other side coming towards us on this very narrow, swinging suspended bridge. As she got closer, I realized she expected me to take one of my hands off the other side of the bridge and allow her to pass. You know, like a normal person. I could not let go. For the life of me, I could not allow myself to feel even a minuscule less secure than I already felt on this bridge. Finally, I lifted my arm and scooted around her as fast as I could. As my eyes darted to the water below, I stared panicking. I turned around towards the direction in which we started and asked Paloma to come back with me. She started crying because she could hear in my voice how nervous I was. She said no, and then I started screaming, “Help! Help!” The chances of ANYTHING bad happening to us at this point were null. I was just overcome by this onset fear of heights on a swinging bridge. The woman who had just passed me looked back and thought I was a lunatic. She kept walking and was no help to us. Then a thought came into my mind…. I will just lay here on this bridge and roll into a ball until someone comes and pulls me off. I then crouched down directly in front of Paloma, grabbed her hands, looked her directly in the eyes and said, “We need to get off this bridge now!” I think I may have even said, “We are going to die!” Paloma was clinging to my legs and I started walking back towards the bridge entrance. She was not walking fast enough and I was three feet in front of her, I could only think of one thing and that was getting to a safe place.
The thought that made me feel better about leaving my 4 year old four feet behind me was the safety video they show on the plane. They always tell you to adjust your oxygen mask first right? The whole way Paloma was crying (not out of fright anymore, but pissed because she has not walked to the other side). I was promising her a candy bar an hour, barbies and the entire American Girl Store if she would just move faster. We finally got back to the start and I hugged Paloma and told her she was so brave, but that mommy was a chicken. I tried girl! At some point, my niece Ella came back across to our side and walked Paloma all the way over. I was so proud of her. I have no regrets about not making it across. I was however, teased all week by all the kids on the trip, including SweetPea.
That next two nights we stayed in Punakaiki. The area is very remote and I felt like I was in the middle of a rain forest with an ocean on the side. The area is filled with tons of fauna due to all of the rain. We had to bring all of our supplies because there was no grocery store for 60 miles or so. Imagine what a scary prospect it is to be in the middle of nowhere, with your in-laws, your sister-in-law’s family and your two kids with the possibility of running out of wine. Horrifying right! (Insert smile emoticon.) We had a great time! That first night, Alexia, Scott, Carlos and I walked through an ice-cold river mouth to get onto the beach. Carlos told me he would carry me on his back. He took one step into the water and realized the rocks were super sharp. I started laughing so hard that when I fell knee-deep into the water, I ended up peeing my pants. We both were dying laughing at this point because the water literally shocked my system. Thank god the beach was completely barren, otherwise they may have sent the crazy truck my way. I wanted to head back to the house, however, the rest of the crew hazed me until I finally ran to the other side with my tennis shoes on and my pants pulled up to my thighs. Let me just say that the weather was not by any means super warm swimming weather. The sky was a huge overcast and the rain was very misty. Carlos (after a bottle of shared wine) decided he was going to go swimming in the ocean. Both he and Scott stripped down to their underwear and jumped right in the ocean. I have pictures to prove it. The water was freezing, but they did it. That night we played Rummikub as a family and celebrated Enzo, my nephews, 7th birthday.
In the morning, we made a very big breakfast and went into the small town on Punakaiki. I think we had over 40 pieces of bacon and every piece was gone by the end of breakfast. We did a few small walks to see the Pancake Rocks, which are beautiful rock formations on the coast that look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. On the way home, the kids stopped at some caves with Scott and did some exploring. That evening, Ella and Paloma tried out the old- school outdoor tub. They took a bath while it was raining outside and loved it. For dinner we had pork chops and just hung out talking with one another. Carlos and Alexia said they both witnessed a ghost at this house. Which is interesting because this area was an area where people came to seek for gold years ago and is known to be New Zealand’s most haunted location. Carlos mentioned that afternoon he felt like he saw an image walking in the very dense backyard. That evening at the exact same time, he and Alexia asked if we saw something outside the window. The place was awesome, however, I am not sure I was up for seeing a ghost, even a friendly one!
Our next destination was Fox Glacier. On the way to Fox Glacier, we stopped in a small town called, Hokitika. We ate lunch at a place called, Fat Pipi’s Pizza. This town is an old mining town and has recently made headlines from the very popular book, The Luminaries. The book is centered around the town and the surrounding areas during the New Zealand mining days.
We visited the Hokitika Museum and saw what it was like during this time. The town was very proud of the book and did it best to promote it at the different shops and museums in town. For those of you not familiar with this book, it is humongous. I did my very best to read it while in Australia and could not get past the fifth chapter. From what I hear, it is worth finishing, so I will have to give it another go one day. Another thing this town is known for is Whitebait fishing and fish. To me, they look almost like little minnows. Alexia and Scott tried some and really enjoyed the taste.
After lunch we continued our drive to Fox Glacier. The weather was rainy and misty. This did not stop us from pulling over and taking a short thirty minute hike up to the Glacier viewing area. Unforutanately, we were unable to really see the Glacier because of the clouds and mist. That evening, when we arrived at Top Ten Motor park, the kids were super excited to find a playground and a trampoline. It was raining outside, however, this never seemed to phase them. The adults made a dinner of soup and sandwiches. Carlos’ parents slept in one of the beds, Alexia, Carlos and Scott slept in the bunk beds. I slept on the floor with a mattress pulled from the top bunk and the kids slept in a bed. It was musical beds that night.
In the morning we had breakfast Tacos made by Birdie and Romeo. I also made some hot salsa, which we call “Cherry Sauce.” The key to this sauce starts of with Bacon Grease, Jalepenos and Onions. It came out so good and now I have been designated to make this when we are all together.
Our drive was very long to Queenstown. The driving miles in New Zealand are quite different than most places in the world. I was very thankful to not have to drive. We had to pass over uncountable moutain passes and the driver had to pay very close attention at all times. The roads are very windy as there is no real direct route. The drive was absolutely breathtaking and we stopped a few times along the way. I was able to somewhat redeem my scaredy pants card by completely crossing over another swing bridge. (Not nearly as high or long.) This feat was accomplished when we went to check out the Blue Pools, which is another excursion I suggest hitting if you are ever near Lake Wanaka. The water is crystal blue and just a gorgeous small hike.
Our house in Queenstown was amazing. I think everyone was excited to stay in one place for two nights. The kids loved the hot tub. Alexia volunteered to stay with the kids and Scott, Carlos, Romeo, Birdie and myself went to a local Pub nearby for dinner. I had some of the best mushroom soups I have ever tasted.
In the morning, Carlos and his parents went on a 8 hour tour to the Milford Sound. I had emailed the tour company prior to arriving and asked if they could guarantee a front row seat. I had heard the roads in this area were extremely windy and tons of switchbacks. Since I could not get a guaranteed front row, I decided to skip the tour. We spent the first part of the morning exploring the city of Queenstown. Paloma was getting cranky. I took her home to nap and she slept for three hours straight. Keeping up with the big kids was wearing her out! Alexia, Scott and I made a really nice dinner for everyone so that upon getting home from the tour, they could just eat and head to bed. We made steak, potatoes, salmon, and a large salad. Everyone went to bed pretty early that night. Carlos really enjoyed the tour, however, said that I would have definitely gotten car sick.
In the morning we picked up our Campervans. While planning the trip, we decided we needed a 6 person sleeper and a 4-person sleeper. We would share the cost of both and utilize the 6-person campervan for hanging out and most of the cooking. Alexia offered us the larger of the two campers, however, we were fine with the small one. Upon picking up our vans, we spent the day walking around and shopping in Arrowtown. The kids panned for gold and we had a really nice lunch outside. On the way out we stopped and toured the reconstructed Chinese Settlement which is Memorial to the Otago Chinese Settlers. The weather was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold outside. We then made our way to our first camping spot of the trip.
We were Freedom Camping, which means, no real bathrooms, or hook-up to electricity. Just you and the elements around you. While making our way up and down the mountain side we were greeted with mass amounts of sheep and cows. They were super cute and did not seem to mind us encroaching on their land for a night. On one of the last hills before hitting our destination, you could start to see the Moke Lake. It was absolutely breathtaking. Surrounding the lake were mountains. The lake was as blue as the Carribean ocean. I got the chills and honestly started to tear up at the beauty in front of me.
When we finally got down to the bottom of the valley, we set up our camper van, popped some champagne and had a quick dinner of grilled cheese and soup. I was nervous about having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Moke Lake had two drop toilets. You basically sit on a piece of wood and let it all drop. There was no way I was going to walk over in pitch darkness and use the restroom by myself. I also was not going to go wake up the other camper van to use the restroom inside. My adrenalin was high and I was enjoying the camping. Kind of like when you come home with a new baby and you are so filled with adrenalin. You are like, this is amazing, this is awesome. Then after a week of not sleeping, you ask yourself, “What the hell did I get myself into?” So first night was great. Something I ate that day gave me horrendous heartburn to the fact that I questioned whether or not I was having a heart attack. I tossed and turned all night. In the morning, Alexia, Birdie and I meditated. Carlos and Scott took the big kids hiking up a gigantic mountain. When they were on the way down, Alexia and I started walking up the Mountainside to meet them half-way. When we had walked about 20 meters, I made a baaaa sound at one of the sheep way up on the hill. I think he thought this was a mating call. He started charging down the hill at Alexia and I. When he got within five feet of us, he backed up and then charged us! Alexia and I started screaming and rushed down the hillside as fast a humanly possible. We decided to just do a small hike around the lake, which was perfect.
That evening we headed across the Country to a city called Dunedin. A few months before we left on our trip, Amber, an old friend from home let me know that she and her family were being relocated to Dunedin for her husband’s job. I was really looking forward to seeing her and meeting both Craig, her husband and Kaylin, (her daughter) for the first time. That evening our family went to dinner at Amber’s house. We parked our camper near her garage and ended up spending the night. It is amazing how you pick right back off with friends who have known you forever. There is just something about the Midwest connection that brings people together. I also think that a large group of us from Michigan have alway remained close and in touch over the years. We always pick right back up where we started.
One of the things I appreciate so much about Amber is her honestly and no-frills attitude. The first thing she said to me when I walked in was, “Ok, make yourself at home. I do not care if you want to eat, if you want to go sit in the corner and not talk to anyone or just go to bed.” I noticed during our time together that she is always looking to learn about herself and and grow as a person. Amber made us a great dinner of enchiladas and we stayed up way too late talking. Kaylin and the kids hit it off so well. She was absolutely dear so thoughtful and sharing with Paloma. Kaylin made Paloma’s day by giving her an extra Snow White’s outfit that you will see in pretty much the rest of our NZ pictures. I really enjoyed our time with Craig as well.
The next day was what one might call the tour de Dunedin. We started off at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. This was a cute tour combined with more chocolate than you can imagine. Paloma was off her rocker half-way through. I felt like I was in Willy Wonka’s factory. Cute tour for kids and I would definitely recommend going at least once. We had a quick burger for lunch and all headed over to the Speights Brewing Center. Amber and Kaylin joined us for this tour. The tour was neat, especially if you like beer. My favorite was the Cider Beer. Speights is one of the largest beer distributors in New Zealand. This was the beer that we drank throughout our NZ travels. Although, I mostly stuck to red wine and Sauvignon Blanc. After the beer tour, we rushed to the other side of the Dunedin to the Otago Peninsula to go on a tour to see penguins and seals.
This was a protected area which was great to allow the Penguins to breed and live a normal life. We saw a ton of seals that day and a few penguins. The Yellow Eye Penguins are very rare and highly endangered. In order to see them, we had to walk through bunkers covered with tarps which was a cool experience in itself. We did see one little Penguin slowly make his/her way up to the grounds from the beach. Super neat! We learned a ton that day. Our guide was telling us the penguins typically stay together for years as long as one of them does not die or get lost out at sea. They had a graph of a few of the Penguins partners throughout the years and you could see which one was more of a Casanova. That evening we met Amber and Craig at dinner and called it an early night as everyone was exhausted.
The next morning, we all drove in our separate Campervans up to Oamaru. Carlos and I decided not to head back up to the mountains with the rest of the crew as we had not seen the East Coast yet. Cruz could not be pulled away from his cousins. Paloma, Carlos and I stayed East and the other van headed back to through the Mountains. We all spent the first part of the day before leaving hanging out at a a large park overlooking the ocean. The weather was around 60 – 65 degrees and kids were swimming in the bay. It was a beautiful day, however, I am not sure I would have been adventurous enough to swim that day. After the park, we drove up to Timaru and stayed the night at a cute little side camping site. The next morning we stopped in Christchurch for lunch. The city is still in quite a big rebuild mode after the Earthquake in 2010. We spent about two hours there and that is was enough time for us. We had Cuban sandwiches from a food cart outside the Art Museum. I am still dreaming of this sandwich as it was amazing! Paloma loved being spoiled by attention from us with her brother gone, however, was missing her cousins and her brother.
After Christchurch we drove about an hour to the West Coast and visited a coastal town called Akaroa. The city was a former French Colony and still had a very French flavor to it. I thought the town was super adorable and was able to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Paloma was on day two of wearing her Snow White outfit that Kaylin had given her. She was a big hit in town. We had dinner on the water at a little Cafe and settled in to our camping site and called it a night.
We woke up super early the following morning to meet back up with everyone in Christchurch to return our Campervans. We picked up two rental cars and started heading North back towards Nelson. Our last two nights on the road we spent in an adorable town called Kaikora. The weather was absolutely perfect for us while we were in town. The town was a typical small New Zealand beach town. The views of the mountains were awesome and we could eat on the deck looking at the view. We spent our time walking around town, grilling out, shopping, playing Rummikub and going to the parks. One day we took all of the kids to a quasi Petting Zoo in town. I would not recommend this as it was kind of cheesy and the owner was not super friendly. The animals were sweet though and the Donkey was by far my favorite.
We arrived in Nelson on the 23rd of December. We were going to be spending the next ten days at the house. Some of the highlights of Nelson are below.
-Christmas was lovely. It did not feel like Christmas at all though because we had been on the road and it was so warm. On Christmas Eve we went to Mass at a nearby Church. That evening we had Carlos’ homemade Lasagna. After opening presents the following morning, we went down to the Marina area most of the family did a polar bear plunge into the water. (This is a tradition and it seemed the entire town was jumping in.) For dinner, we had Flautas and rice. I did not jump in on this day, however, I did make the plunge on New Year’s day with Melanie, and Alexia.
-We took a boat to Abel Tasman. A major highlight or our time in Nelson. The water was incredible. We had a picnic lunch and hiked around the island before heading back.
-The GrisRods and HoopRods played with the locals in our first ever cricket competition at the local pub. We won the first game and got killed by a group of High School boys on the second game. This day was a blast for me. I forgot how much I liked to compete on a team. We had an absolute blast!
-On morning we rented bikes and rode up and down the Great Tasting Road. I was not prepared for some of the hills, but I made it with a smile.
-Carlos and I went away for a night and spent the evening in a cool eco-hotel on the side of hill overlooking . We had dinner and were asleep by 10 p.m.
-Amber, Craig and Kaylin came up for a few days. We spent New Years with them and with Alexia and Scott’s friends from Auckland. We grilled out, played celebrity charades and cheered on the New Year by viewing the amazing stars that night. What a fun-filled week!
-One evening we went to Trivia night at the Playhouse where we played Cricket. We ran into the same people from the game. We came in 4th out of 15 teams so we were happy.
-We explored the city of Nelson and nearby areas by shopping, going to the movies, visiting Vineyards and hitting up the amazing markets on the weekends.
-We played Rummikub, Uno, and Scrabble, drank way too much wine, stayed up late laughing, taking walks on the beach and just enjoying the never-ending views of the beautiful ocean from the upstairs window.
We loved our trip to New Zealand. We came, we saw, we loved it! Thank you again to Alexia and Scott for hosting us at your house and for all the planning to help make this trip a success.
As I write this, we are preparing for our final flight in the morning to Chile. This will be our last country on the trip. We just completed Argentina. Today was a tough day. I feel like all we did all day was yell at the kids. ALL DAY LONG! Not to mention it was a travel day and that makes things a bit more stressful on everyone. To the point of me actually looking into direct flights to Dallas tomorrow instead of Chile. Such is life when you spend 24 hours a day together for 230 days in a row. Tomorrow will reset the slate as it always does and we will enjoy our last few days of this crazy adventure. By the end of the day I will be planning our next trip.
xoxo – The GrisRods