Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Xmas Vacation

Our first New Zealand Xmas was great fun.
We did so much that I will break it down into 3 separate posts to make it easier.

We did not have a tree this year and I missed that. But we decided that since we would be traveling for the holidays it was silly to have a tree that would just sit and dry out while we were gone. We did however decorate the apartment with garland both fresh and tinsel silver along with red and green xmas lights and some hanging ornaments. And we made our traditional dinner of turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes with Eric's delicious pumpkin pie!

On the 27th we took the ferry from Wellington to Picton. It was an easy 3 hour journey. In Picton we rented a car - Toyota Rav 4 and drove to Nelson. We drove along Queen Charlotte Drive. For those who know, it is a very pretty, but windy, narrow the rain. This would be the first of many such days.

It had been raining for a bit and once in Nelson we could see the evidence. The small little river that runs through the town was overflowing it's banks. We also learned that some of the roads on the South Island were now closed due to flooding, and mud and rock slides. We were fortunate that the road we were taking would be cleared. Our second day the weather cooperated and we had beautiful sunshine with which to see the Able Tasman National Park. This is one of my favorite places in NZ. (see very first blog entry photo). The water was not as turquoise due to the earlier storm, but it was still quite remarkable.

From there we drove to Christchurch where we checked out the Antarctic Center -Very Cool! (pun intended) The 4D experience was lots of fun and very wet...Then to Mt Cook -well not exactly. We drove to Otematata - The only place we could get lodging close to Mt. Cook on New Years Eve. We spent a day up at the Hermitage Hotel admiring the amazing sight of Aoraki -the Maori name for Mt. Cook. It means - "high mountain to the west" and is the name of the first born son of Rakinui, the sky father. It was somewhat cloudy, but the mountain did come out for a few quick peaks. (again with the pun)

So, what's in Otematata? Not much. Your basic middle of nowhere. And the worst bed on the whole trip. This was certainly not what I had thought my first New Years in NZ would be - but it will certainly be one that will be remembered. If you can picture the following, this is what it was(or check out the iphone pic above). A bar, cash only, actually it was more like a large room sectioned off a bit with a bar, some pool tables, and in the back some slot machines. Oh and don't forget the cigarette vending machine in the corner. The walls were old wood paneling and on them hung cheap beer posters, the random holiday garland or decoration and animal heads. Deer mostly, with their antlers sticking out to the left and right, hung on most of the walls. Then there was the entertainment for the evening, The RetroSonics - from the internet - RETROSONICS are a high energy 4 piece covers band based in Christchurch playing classic and current rock hits. MANDI MILLER (lead vocals) - Originally from Oregon USA Mandi is a certified vocal instructor teaching both privately and in schools. With great on stage appeal, interacting with the audience with state of the art wireless equipment Mandi is a 'high energy' front person and sure knows how to work a crowd! Flash backs to that band that played at my Junior High school dance. The crowd was quite entertaining too- if you like to people watch. There were kids about 8-10 years old and adults all the way up to about 70. A bunch of nearby and not so nearby campsites got flooded out so I think there were quite a few who did not expect to be there, but it was the only place in the area with space. (wonder why). The attire ranged from 5" heels and skirts that were way too short, to guys in sports coats and jandals - those are what NZers call flip flops... Yep, this one won't soon be forgotten.

I should mention here a place called The Wrinkly Rams. This was not in Otematata, but in nearby Omarama. If you are ever in the middle of nowhere South Island NZ this is a great place to stop for a break and some good food.

Dunedin. Nice little town and the best bed on the trip! and not just because it was the first bed after Otematata. Here on the Otago Peninsula we saw penguins and albatross. What an amazing bird. Check out the shot with the albatross in the foreground an the seagull next to it. that is quite a size difference. And I am happy to report that none of us were "decorated" while spending the hour underneath the circling birds. We also saw the Moeraki boulders -google it if you want to know more. I am rambling on too much already.

Queenstown was next and again it was a great hotel with a fabulous view of the lake and the Remarkables Mountain Range. Check out that sunset! This is where we celebrated Eric's b-day.
We also spent a day driving (another long and winding road -4 hrs each way) to the Milford Sound. We took a cruise on the sound and then drove back.

And to add some more excitement to the trip, we did the Nevis Arc. A swing 143 meters above the ground with a 70 meter freefall. Oh and we did it twice- once forwards and then backwards. If you did not know, yes we are a bit crazy.

The last part of our trip was another drive on a narrow windy road up the west coast of the island to Hokatika where we did some "more" shopping (we shopped all along the way). They have a great glass blowing gallery there. And we had hopes of finding some beautiful ruby rock jewelry but we're disappointed. We will have to do more research on this. Then to see the pancake rocks at Punakaiki, to Greymouth to turn in the rental car and hop on the Trans-Alpine train back to Christchurch. And a last night in Christchurch before we flew home to Wellington. Sue and Rich flew back home a few days later having had a wonderful time. Eric and I had one more day to unpack, and relax before I went back to work on Monday. It was a great trip and great time spent with family.

...Happiness is your own bed.

More highlight photos to follow....

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