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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Queenstown

I've posted heaps about our summer trip to New Zealand with Nani and Papi (Rob and Rhona). We visited AucklandChristchurchMilford Sound and Lake Wanaka. Our final stop in the Land of the Long White Cloud was Queenstown.

As noted in a previous post, Queenstown is built around Lake Wakatipu and, though not very high above sea level, is surrounded by mountains for great skiing (so we've heard; we were there in December / summer!). Adventurers flock to Queenstown for skiing, snowboarding, jet boating, white water rafting, bunny jumping, mountain biking, paragliding, sky diving and so much more.

We had a few days in town and it was amazing. Great food, lots to see, shopping galore, and so much to do. We spent an entire day on Bob's Peak. Though I'm sure it's a spectacular and challenging hike to the top via the Tiki Trail, we opted for the gondola ride. 

Aaron and Micah on the gondola!


Marketing material for the gondola notes, "When you get to the top of the Gondola you are rewarded with some of Queenstown’s most spectacular views. From Bob’s Peak you can see Coronet Peak to the north and the iconic Remarkables mountain range to the east, both of which are ski resorts in the winter. Across the deep blue waters of Lake Wakatipu to the southwest you see Cecil and Walter Peaks. It’s truly awe-inspiring!" Yep.



Our original purpose for venturing up Bob's Peak was to ride the luge. We figured we'd each do a ride or two and then head back down. 

Have you ever luged? I hadn't and it was a ridiculous BLAST! Our plan turned itself upside down and we ended up each riding 3+ times. We had lunch up top, visited the Jelly Belly shop and luged until our pockets were empty. That is some fun stuff!

To get to the luge track you get to take a chair lift. That was just as fun as the luge!



E and I taking a selfie on the chairlift!


This photo so accurately captures Micah, IMO - his incredible love of life and adventure!

At the top of the chairlift you divide into lines based on which course you plan to do - the blue or red track. The blue track is described as "a leisurely ride with gentle gradient, easy bends, tunnels and dips, " while "the red track has a steeper gradient and is a more adventurous ride with the thrill of banked corners, tunnels, dippers and cuttings."

All riders start on the blue track. On your first ride, you're given instructions and you have to pass a "test" to ensure you know how to work the luge. Your hand gets marked denoting you've passed the test and can ride wherever you'd like from then on.
Papi took Micah down the blue track!

Eytan rode solo down the blue track; I was meant to stay near him and totally failed. Aaron rescued him. Luckily he had a blast despite my parenting fail!

We let Aaron ride solo a few times!

We did more than just luge, but this was a highlight for most of us. From Queenstown we said goodbye to New Zealand. Or maybe just "see ya later!" We returned to Sydney just in time to ring in 2018 and play in the sun for a few days until our next trip. Stay tuned for more!


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Lake Wanaka (via Queenstown)

Queenstown is built around Lake Wakatipu and, though not very high above sea level, is surrounded by mountains for great skiing (we've heard; we were there in December / summer!). Adventurers flock to Queenstown for skiing, snowboarding, jet boating, white water rafting, bunny jumping, mountain biking, paragliding, sky diving and so much more.

The grownups all noted a familiarity in Queenstown that reminded us of Aspen, Colorado. Turns out Queenstown and Aspen are sister cities!

Queenstown from above
We ate delicious food, flew on a prop plane to Milford Sound for a day cruise around the Sound, golfed, rode a gondola and went on a luge, worked our logic at puzzling world, swam in Lake Wanaka, enjoyed our resort and so much more!

I (Julie) had a ridiculous bucket list item to drive to Lake Wanaka to find the marker for the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and south pole. I had researched which road to take, what the sign looked like and had a general idea when we were close. All that way and we never saw the sign 😢. We later learned it was on the opposite side of the road for the cars driving south to Queenstown (vs. north from Queenstown). Sigh.

Here I am in 2015 at the 45th parallel NORTH sign on our most recent trip to Northern Michigan. It's Harwin family tradition to stop at the sign for a photo!

We stopped at Puzzling World and, holy moly, the guys could've spent the entire day there! Brain teasers, illusions, mazes, puzzles and more.

The Great Maze! There are four coloured checkpoints in corners to complete the maze + finding the exit. Whoa!

Not all of us made it through the Great Maze. We split into a few "teams" but eventually some of us bailed. Others completed the quest. Kudos!

After several hours at Puzzling World, we continued on to Lake Wanaka. Stunning! 

Photo courtesy of Tourism New Zealand

The area has been described as "outstanding natural beauty." It did not disappoint! The focal point of the area for me was the fresh water lake. We quickly changed into swimming cossies (translation: swimsuits) and waded into the cool, refreshing water. I ventured out to a small floating pontoon while the boys splashed in the lake with Nani.





We walked around town a bit after swimming, grabbed some dinner (met some Americans / Wolverine fans!) and wrapped up our day. The journey back to Queenstown was a white knuckle drive filled with hairpin turns and stunning views. Every time the passengers gasped at the beauty, I freaked out as the driver. 



These pictures will never do this part of the world justice. Just know (in my opinion) it's worth every ounce of energy, day off work and dollar saved to get there.

We made it safely back to Queenstown, climbed into bed and prepared for another wonderful day...

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Milford Sound (via Queenstown)

From Christchurch we journeyed to Queenstown, an incredible resort town known for great skiing and extreme adventure.

Our first full day we were scheduled to fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound, cruise around the sound and then fly back home. Ballers! It's quite a drive from Queenstown to the Sound and I'd heard incredible things about the flight (plus a HUGE time saver). It took a lot (A LOT) of convincing to get 5/6 of us on board that plane (with the other 1/6 opting instead to golf with no regrets!). Flights are able to operate about 200 days / year, so they like you to book in for your first full day in Queenstown. That way if weather cancels your trip there's still flexibility to go another day.

Milford Sound is an easy-to-miss-from-the-sea fiord having initially been overlooked by European explorers and Captain James Cook. Its narrow entry from the sea doesn't appear to lead to such a large interior bay. Milford Sound is known for towering Mitre Peak, plus rainforests and waterfalls like Stirling and Bowen falls, which plummet down its sheer sides. The fiord is home to fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins.

Our pilot told us the cruise around the Sound would be lovely but in reality, the flight would be the most spectacular part. I could not agree more!

We scored with weather! We had the most spectacular clear skies and calm winds on our way to Milford Sound. Our pilot happily noted they get two days / year like that. I will never in my life be able to describe in words the beautiful, pristine, untouched incredibleness we saw from the sky and sea.

Our 16-seater plane!

View from inside the plane

Aaron and the boys on the 3-seat couch at the back of the plane


That other plane was our pilot's dad and his passengers


And some from the cruise!

Beautiful sights from the cruise
Seal rock 
It was a bit chilly on the Sound!

With my mini-me

We snagged some American goldfish crackers at a local shop! And the boys totally represented their American roots with their Detroit sports team gear <3. 

The flight back to Queenstown wasn't nearly as smooth but it was equally as beautiful. Nani even got to fly co-pilot on the way back!


While 5/6 of us did the fly-cruise-fly day, Papi chose to tackle the Queenstown Golf Club! He was thrilled to have the opportunity to play such a beautiful course. We missed him, but we were all happy that everyone found special activities that suited them!


This was only one day in Queenstown. Lots more about Queenstown and surrounding towns next...!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Christchurch

Aaron's parents visited us for a lot of the summer and we adventured all around the region, including New Zealand.

Thanks for the map, Lonely Planet


After Auckland, we flew to the South island to spend a few days in Christchurch. In 2010 and 2011, earthquakes destroyed much of the historic city. Fifteen-hundred buildings had to be demolished and tremendous infrastructure repairs were required to put Christchurch back to operational. A massive rebuilding effort continues still -- it was beautiful to feel the spirit of this small city.

After he got over his brief infatuation with Papua New Guinea, Antarctica captured Micah's heart and imagination. It has held strong. Christchurch is one of the world's five gateway cities to Antarctica and hosts an International Antarctic Centre. Wow! We survived an Antarctic storm simulation, learned about early explorations in Antartica and today's Scott Base, saw Antarctic penguins, rode in a Hagglund and more.


The boys inside the Antarctic storm simulation room testing out the machinery


A rare photo of all 6 of us as we prepared for the Antarctic storm simulation!

We learned heaps about Antarctica and the incredible cooperation among the international community

Penguin playtime!

Nani and Papi Just before the Hagglund ride departed. We had no idea what was in store! Hagglund's are a main mode of transport in Antarctica. They travel over ice, snow and almost any terrain. The ride took us up steep hills, over massive boulders, through giant puddles and more.

Papi standing on melted ice from both the North and South poles!

Boys, listen to Frank Zappa: "Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow!"

Nani trying on some gear



Our weather in Christchurch was pretty dreadful, so we mostly found indoor activities like the Antarctic Centre, Quake City and the Canterbury Museum. We also got to spend some time in Christchurch with our American friends who had been on holiday and were on their way back to the US after living in Sydney for a short time.

Quake City info


Testing building designs against quakes!
Our last morning in Christchurch was gorgeous weather (damn you, Murphy!) but we wanted to check out the Canterbury Museum.


Papi and Micah in the reading nook <3!!

Incredible collection of photographs that travels the world - highly recommend!

I think I fly solo for the adults in our traveling party in saying Christchurch was a highlight! Others were less enamored. From Christchurch we went to Queenstown, which I'll blog about next!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Auckland

Auckland, on New Zealand's North island, is the country's most populous city. About 1.5 million residents live in the Auckland area. At just over 4.5 million residents in the country, that means about 1/3 of kiwi's live in one city.

According to Wikipedia, Auckland is the only city in the world built on a basaltic volcanic field that is still active.

We swam at Cheltenham beach, visited the Auckland Zoo and Bug Lab, went to the top of the Sky Tower and visited Hobbiton. We also relaxed. The kids were wiped out from a long (and wonderful!) school year + loads of activities.

M at Cheltenham

One of the highlights at the zoo was seeing the kiwi bird. Kiwi are flightless birds about the size of a chicken. They're related to the emu, ostrich and cassowary but are far smaller than any of those. They're nocturnal and tend to mate for life. Their population is declining and there are massive efforts across New Zealand to save the country's national symbol from extinction. 

Kiwi's are incredibly challenging (at least for me!) to photograph. Thankful the San Diego Zoo has a kiwi and shared this great photo. There are a few American zoo's and wildlife parks that have kiwi's!


Consider:

- Only half of kiwi eggs hatch
- About 90% of chicks that have hatched die within 6 months
- Fewer than 5% of chicks reach adulthood

If you live near Washington, DC; Boston, Massachusetts; San Diego, California; Toledo, Ohio, or a few other American cities, your zoo or wildlife park has kiwis for you to visit!

The Auckland Sky Tower was a great arvo (afternoon) activity on a clear day. At 328 metres, the Sky Tower is the tallest manmade structure in New Zealand. On a clear day, you can see about 80 kilometres in every direction! If you're feeling really adventurous (read: crazy!), you can walk along the perimeter outside or bungee jump from the tower. We passed on those options, but enjoyed our visit nonetheless. 

Some of the Auckland CBD from the Sky Tower


Our final full day in Auckland we journeyed to the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata. Hobbiton was a major filming location for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. The movie set is on a (still operational) family farm! After all the filming wrapped, Peter Jackson left behind some of the set for visitors.



The Fidler crew at Hobbiton

E checking out the Hobbit homes


M tackling the (trick) axe challenge!

Auckland was nice but not somewhere I'd rush back to. There's a lot to do within a few hours, but we just weren't feeling the long car rides. All that said, I'm glad we checked it out!

From Auckland we went to Christchurch on the South Island. Stay tuned...