Here we go with the final days of our South Island loop! We dropped down into Wanaka, the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, after crossing the Haast Pass on a glorious sunny day. The Top 10 Holiday Park greeted us like an old friend when we rolled into camp. With so many activities to choose from in this lakeside town and only one night’s stay ahead, we got busy right away. First activity of choice was a 2-hour horse and quad bike adventure in the nearby Cardrona hills.
Our hosts for the afternoon were a farmer, Sarah, and her colleague Kelly, who have recently started a horse trekking/quad bike touring business along the hills of Sarah’s family farm. We had four horses and three bikes (like ATV’s) to share between the seven of us. Kelly led the riders, and Sarah led the motorists, and we were off for a breathtaking tour of the hill country and farmlands overlooking the ski “fields” (ski mountain) of Cardrona.
It was a spectacular way to enjoy the countryside and learn about the Cardrona/Wanaka region from some friendly, sporty locals! On Day 2 in Wanaka, we woke up to yet another sunny, warm day and this time we headed straight for the lake. Icy cold waters make swimming an adrenaline rush in its own right, so we opted for a boat ride with local captain “Davy,” a retiree from the North Island who now spends his days taking tourists on fishing and sightseeing tours of the lake. We spent about three hours with Davy, and along the way we learned all about the history of Wanaka, the topography of the area, and viewed Mt. Aspiring (tallest peak in the Southern Alps). We even took a short hike during which Davy taught us about native plant species and Maori medicinal herbs.
After saying goodbye to Davy, we piled into our vans and drove one hour to Queenstown, where yet another Top 10 awaited our arrival. As this day also happened to be Blair’s birthday (the BIG 4-0!), we ended it with a perfect little celebration in the campervan before Blair and Jeff had a meal out together.
The adrenaline capital of New Zealand (and some would argue, the world!), Queenstown is a buzzing community of skydiving, paragliding, bungy-jumping, jet boating Kiwis and everywhere you turn there is an option for FUN. Situated on yet another stunning lake with mountains looming on all sides, there are plenty of ways to explore this town.
We started with zip lining. A tree-top course with four different lines to traverse provided an adrenaline rush for Pepe, Jeff, Blair, and all three girls for the entire morning.
From the Zip Line we journeyed to the Kawarau bridge, off which Blair and college roommate Pickle had hurled themselves 20 years ago. This time, Jeff and Pepe were the brave bungy jumpers, both swan diving off the platform and hurtling 150 feet before the bungy cord saved their precious necks. The girls and Meme could hardly watch as first Ron, then Jeff, jumped one after the other!
Our Queenstown adventures continued for the next couple of days, with indoor trampoline parks, aquatic centers with hydro slides and lazy rivers, great cafes and shopping, and for Jeff and Blair, a night away from the rest of the group. First night away from the kids in 5 months (thank you Meme and Pepe)! We were sad to leave it all behind and begin the long drive to Timaru, where we would spend our two final nights of campervan life before returning to Christchurch.
Timaru was really just a random stopping point to help break up the journey, but we discovered that the Top 10 there had a golf course connected to it so Jeff and Ron naturally took advantage of that.
We also found another aquatic center, complete with fitness center, café, swim-wear shop, giant pools and diving platforms, two incredible hyroslides, a play gym for small children (in the pool), jacquizzis and warm pools, and a lazy river to float in. We took photos so that someone in our home town of Portsmouth can get to work on this. If Timaru, population 27,000 can do it, so can we!
And on our final drive, a sheep jam…
CHRISTCHURCH, once again We made it safely back to Christchurch on January 15th, and it was almost time to say goodbye to Meme and Pepe after 5 weeks together. Before they departed, Jeff and Schuyler joined them for a bus tour around the city which has been ravaged by earthquakes since 2010. Much of Christchurch has yet to be rebuilt due to the over 10,000 aftershocks that have rippled through on a regular basis, and continue to do so. So many buildings have been condemned yet have not been torn down because of demolition backlog and insurance red tape. Thousands of residents have moved away, and we were all shocked and saddened to see the South Island’s biggest city in such a state of disrepair.
And then it was time to say farewell to Meme and Pepe. We will treasure our memories of the epic road trip together. Tough Tiger and Lady Di will be missed!
Back to our little family of five now, we distract the girls with a visit to the International Antarctic Center.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Christchurch is one of the main gateways to Antarctica? The U.S.’s McMurdo Station and New Zealand’s Scott Base are only 2,400 miles by air from Christchurch. Every summer (like right now down here), military aircraft complete over 100 flights to the continent, moving 5,500 passengers and thousands of tons of cargo. They fly in airplanes that look like this – we saw some at the airport when we landed here:
We all came away from the museum with a wealth of information about the Antarctica and the individual research stations down there. To be so close to this elusive continent felt pretty special. Next Steps: From here, we will slowly make our way to the North Island, stopping to enjoy a “farm stay” and then the coastal town of Kaikoura before crossing the Cook Strait on the ferry. Another week on the road (minivan only this time), and we will find ourselves in a temporary new hometown, Mt. Maunganui, along the Bay of Plenty, where we plan to settle down for about 2 months. The girls will go to the local elementary and middle schools (starting Feb. 3), and Blair and Jeff will probably spend 8 weeks catching up on laundry and burning clothing that we can’t stand to look at anymore. And yes, likely will enjoy some time off from 24/7 parenting! With the months of April and May still unplanned, we have some research to do as well. Southeast Asia is definitely on our radar, but we are open to any/all suggestions – we also welcome visitors and travel companions! Next post will be authored by Schuyler, who is working hard to go live with her first solo blog project. For now, some parting words of wisdom: