I am not sure quite where I left off, but we spent a good bit of our time and mental energies last week preparing for our 2 weeks of holiday on the South Island. I also spent some of Thursday and Friday running around trying to make the rest of our stay in NZ legit by obtaining an extension to our 3 month visas. It looks fairly easy to get but cross your fingers as they now know where we live and our original visas are up before we even get back north – except for Pete – will he still be in the country when we return?! Phyllis and Dave took a day to get in some sightseeing and maximized their $8 all day bus and ferry pass with trip downtown for lunch at SkyTower and a ferry ride to Devonport and back. I wasn’t used to having 2 little guys all to myself all day! We headed back to Jumping Beans which is back after “Term Break”. Aidan loves going. There is a baby class about 15 minutes after his ends for children Quincy’s age. He was all for us staying. He rather enjoyed being the only big kid around! It was interesting to see what all they had going on for little ones. I was actually rather impressed. They really have their act together especially as everything comes out of an returns to a regular sized van. They pack a lot of equipment in and it all converts and does multiple duties. The kids were both rather pooped afterwards as Aidan’s started at 11.30 and Quincy’s ended at 1.30. Aidan had snacked so I decided to drive them both down for a nap. Aidan resisted in a big way despite being tired. He outlasted me at over an hour’s drive at which point Quincy was back awake from me yelling at Aidan! At least the drive was scenic… And there are next to no traffic lights or stop signs in our suburb and surrounds. Nanma & Pop were a big help watching the boys Thursday and Friday so that I could do the visa stuff, make hotel reservations etc. Pop took Aidan (and Quincy although apparently he didn’t realize it!) to a little music / movement class at the community center. I think they both had a lot of fun. Pop has had a little shadow with Aidan. Or perhaps it is the other way around (at Aidan’s insistence). Both grandparents have also had a lot of potty duty which they take in good spirits. Aidan had gone a month or so no accidents then one night last week peed in bed (and I was sharing the bed but he kindly only wet his side). And then our first night traveling he fell asleep on way home and peed midway through the night without fully waking and had several accidents the second day although has been dry all day today (after being put back in pull-ups – just in case…). He knows right away and it is just a dribble but… Too much excitement?
Have I talked about the sinks and toilets here? Restroom sinks tend to be quite shallow front to back with separate hot and cold water taps. Sometimes only 6” deep. Useless! The toilets on the other hand are quite nifty in that they often/usually have 2 levels of flush available. You can figure that one out. Only use the larger amount of water when really needed.
We started our “adventure” Saturday morning when we were picked up in a minivan of the same make that we were going to rent and we headed to the airport. And all our bags and passengers fit!! We had been concerned… We flew Air New Zealand. Didn’t have to show ID to board plane or get boarding pass. No questions about packing our own bags… They offered to carry our backpacks on board for us as we had the 2 kids. Then on board (and not that big a plane – 737 or so) we were told where the child changing table was and offered help with nappies (diapers) bottles etc if needed. They helped install Aidan’s carseat and brought him a nice entertainment/activity book and colored pencils. Really really nice. And a very pleasant trip down with coastline and alpine views. It was election day – fancy, a Saturday not Tuesday! And all election garbage had to be removed by midnight Friday so no more banners on the street corners lingering on. So civilized.
We had bright clear sunny weather for our arrival in Canterbury region, Christchurch city. We were all most impressed with our drive into town from the airport. The taxi driver (lately a truck driver) informed us that we were going through the “upper crust” part of town. I quite like some New Zealand architecture and some of the houses I thought looked quite nice. They do a great job here with having doors and windows open up completely to the outside (ie our kitchen room has 4 doors across that all fold back along a track so that the whole wall disappears). Guess that makes sense since they don’t bother with air conditioning/heating of any kind! There is also a bit of a European sensibility about some of the aesthetic details that is pleasing. Some use of more high tech materials – metals and tensile fabrics – even in residences that are well used and appropriate. Christchurch is also known as the most English of all NZ cities and that was also apparent in the architecture and a bit more formal gardens we could see. It looked to be pancake flat unlike Auckland with its 48 volcanic hills. It is on Canterbury Plains – and they are Plains! We stayed in a nice Motel (motel means full stocked kitchenette and usually separate bedroom here) with very short walk to city central. Our hostess recommended that we head to the Arts Centre in the old University buildings. Sounded a bit odd to us but we decided to try it out. We walked past the River Avon and saw a “punter” poling his passengers along (think Venice Gondola) under the weeping willows. We spied the Cathedral. The University campus is quite nice and in the old English type stone architecture. There was a street performer that interested Aidan as we arrived and a outdoor market adjacent filled with crafts. We grabbed some Lamb Kebabs for lunch and sat and listened to a folk singer (sort of – very nice) in the sun. I picked up some bread from a van, blue cheese from another (smaller) van, and some fresh fruit from a stand for the next day. We then toured through some of the buildings which have been turned over for crafts. We saw wood and bone workers, bought fudge, ogled the fine knitted wear, looked at the leather – you get the picture. There was even a kite place to have fun in. We then set off to find sign of Rutherford – a famous Physicist that went to school there a bit before turn of century (I think). The Physics Building hosted a crafts store and clueless woman. Not far away we did find the “hundred dollar man” exhibit (guess which bill he is on). Mostly it showed rooms like would have existed in his time and a lot of replicas of his medals (many many) and didn’t explain too much about what he actually did that made him so important. So don’t ask me – I don’t really know. Then we enjoyed dinner at vegetarian & seafood restaurant Dux Lux (I think) right there. Very good. Aidan passed out on the stroll home.
It is colder and definitely a bit less daylight hours in the day than up north, but so far the weather has been pretty reasonable during the day especially with the sun out. Probably high 40s or so. Nanma & Pops new ski gloves seem overkill at this point, but they are keeping warm!
Sunday morning bright and early we headed out of town to the train station. At 9 sharp the Tranz Alpine departed for our trip across the plains up into the mountains and across Arthur’s Pass. What a beautiful trip! The plains are quite attractive in their own right as we passed through a patchwork of agriculture, sheep, cattle & deer fields with the snow capped mounts looming ahead. There was a viewing car right behind ours – exhilarating! Bitingly cold though with the speed of the train whipping the wind past. Aidan called it the Rumble Room – it was a bit too loud for him. We crossed 4 viaducts (bridges) and went through 19 tunnels. Through some of the trip we are in a fog zone in the valley we passed through – it was quite shallow in it’s depth (and I had seen it or something similar from the plane in isolated paths the day before) and we could at times see blue skies above. Inside the fog though all the plants including the trees were frosted – really spectacular. So we were probably trading some nice mountains for the pretty trees. There was one place that is a large sheep station – you could see hundreds of them framed by the frosted trees, disappearing off into the white distance. The train got us in a few minutes late at 1.45 into Greymouth at the mouth of the Grey River.
After a snack adjacent to the Jade Gallery we headed south to Shantytown. This coastal stretch is known for its jade (or greenstone as it was called here). I didn’t know that jade is found in boulders – cut them open and hope that there is jade inside and that it is of good quality… it has often been found in the streams and even on the beaches. Back to Shantytown. You can pan for gold – seemed like a silly idea to us to have your hands in water in the cool temperatures of late afternoon. But there are a bunch of buildings that replicate what you might find at the time of the gold rush (just a tad later than California’s). It was quite well done and we had the place almost to ourselves. We also got to take another train ride – only 15 minutes. It dropped us off at a sawmill that wasn’t working on Sunday but had displays explaining the process. We closed the place down at 5 and then headed south 40 km to Hokitika and our motel the Jade Court. We had a 2 bedroom Motel room this time (previous night was 2 separate rooms). We decided to implement the couples without kids dinner plan. Phyllis & Dave when first while we tried to settle the boys. Surprisingly difficult given their lack of naps and early arousal that morning! Café de Paris was the restaurant of choice. And a good choice it was Phyllis! Pete & I had our turn around 8.30. Afterwards we stopped off at the edge of town to check out the “largest above ground Glow Worm colony in the southern hemisphere”. They are actually flies although spend 75% of their year long life as larva. They glow in all stages and are often found in caves – they like cold damp places. You park by the side of the road then follow (grope along) handrails up a slope into the dell. The trees almost completely shut off the light above from the stars. The worms are stationary and look a bit like stars except you can tell there are tree branches in front of them. We had to go back in the day to see what it looked like. The dell is surrounded by fern clad vertical slopes where we think the worms are, but no sight of them by day. It was pretty cool. There was also a little walk up a slope with vistas out over the seemingly unending shoreline.
This morning we got off to only a 10 a.m. start. Pete & Dave enjoyed a nice kidfree (well Quincy napped) breakfast at the same place while Phyllis, Aidan & I ate our delicious muffins outside in the sun. We finished about the same time and then headed to visitor center. We just made it in time for the noon eel feeding show at Water World. 60 eels, quite a few around 2 meters in length. Diver wears steel mesh gloves to protect his hands from their teeth – and his wet suit looked a bit nibbled on. What a job! A small aquarium but rather nice in spite of or perhaps because of that. I left the crew there for a bit and went and check out the craft stores. I watched glass being blown and saw jade being carved. And spent a little money… We had a snack before heading out to town. I kept shoveling a few bites into Aidan while the other adults headed off to a church as it is the anniversary of Dave’s death.
The drive south to Franz Joseph Glacier is about 140 km. Very scenic with snow capped mountains to the side and sometimes ahead. We crossed quite a few creeks/rivers. They are rather small but have huge spanning river beds lined with rocks (glacier??). We wonder how often the water stretches the full width. The hills and farm land on this narrow stretch between mountain and coast is very green. They get A LOT of rain thanks to the mountains. We saw a lot of deer farms. Not something you see back home. The kids both got in a nap on the way to the Glacier. We took a short (20 min supposedly) walk to Sentinel Rock for a view and a few informational signs (showed previous extent of advancement and retreat of Glacier). Interesting, but we have all seen other glaciers. These are special in that they are very fast flowing and come down pretty close to sea level (300 m) in a rather temperate place/latitude. Dusk was upon us as we hit the first really twisty roads of our trip on our way to Fox Glacier area where our motel awaited.