Saturday, November 30, 2019

Good Bye RV, but What Have We Learned....

Today was pretty boring as we got up and made a huge stack of french toast and other various breakfast items to try to clean out the RV.  We did pretty good but hated tossing anything.  Note to others who follow behind us, there is a drop for a local food pantry at the RV return which takes all unopened non-perishables.  We wish they would have told us when we first left.  

Thanks to friends who advised us on our trip we also paid for the Express Return.  No need to dump anything or fill anything.  Just sweep, pile your linens, and slight wipe down.  We passed the inspection no problem.

Off to Christchurch Airport and onto our next short adventure in Auckland.

So...if you choose to do this trip some advice:

Bring travel games
  1. Do not take big suitcases.  We took a backpack each and a duffel bag each.  The RV does not have room to store suitcases, and especially not hard-sided ones.  Nope, not even underneath.
  2. Do not pack fancy clothes.  We took this advice from friends and boy was it true.  Everyone and everywhere is casual.  For men, a collared shirt and jeans are as fancy as it gets.
  3. Ladies every campsite has hairdryers, but don't bother bringing a flat iron or other styling tools.  Their 230V even with a converter can possibly fry your items.  But do grab plug adapters.  Your RV will have USB ports, but also several electrical outlets.
  4. Layers...and a good raincoat.  The weather really changes rapidly here.  But a good raincoat is good protection from the rain and a windbreak.
  5. Speaking of weather...pack some cards or travel-size games.  We brought playing cards and a travel scrabble.
  6. Visit at Thanksgiving if you can.  Everyone told us December just gets busier and busier.  And WOW we saw that even today on November 30 when we returned our RV there were 3X as many people picking up.  We were told you must book campsites if you are not "Freedom Camping" well in advance for the Christmas Holiday.  Thanksgiving we added nights, added locations with no problem.  We were also told prices go WAY up for Christmas.
  7. The same goes for activities.  Most guides told us December should be booked in advance.
  8. Bring waterproof pants for Milford Sound.  Or just be prepared to be in wet pants for a while. Some of our tour group had bought rain ponchos from the gift store.  Also a good idea.
  9. Kind of wished we would have brought 1 compact umbrella.  The good news is there are groceries in about every town within walking distance from the campgrounds, but we often ventured in the rain and it would have been nice to have an umbrella.
  10. Have the airport shuttle at the RV rental take one of you to the grocery to shop while the other checks in at the RV.  They say to plan on 1-2 hours for check-in.  Ours took about an hour, but there were people today who had waited 2 hours.
  11. Speaking of shopping...we found the RV had plenty of space to store things.  Food-wise we went with pasta, bread that could double for sandwiches and french toast.  Eggs allowed for french toast, scrambled, and hard-boiled.  Manuka honey for toast, sandwiches, and melted for "syrup."  Due to the rain, we got ramen noodles for an easy warm-up and again our bread with cheese slices became yummy grilled cheeses.  The RV had a microwave, so leftovers worked well.  Carrots and spinach were added to salad and soups.  And there's no lack of amazing chocolates at every "petrol" station to try something new every day for a sweet.  And lamb...and other fresh meats could be added to salads or eaten as an entree.  All the campgrounds had gas grills in a common area to use.
  12. "Give Way" or "Use the Bays"....use turnouts and allow people to pass.  And when they honk when they pass you they are saying thank you.  They are not mad.
  13. Don't visit unless you are giving it more than a week.  We were 10 days and it was still tight.  And we only did the south island and even skipped the north/Nelson/wine area.
  14. Ask...if there is anything you are wondering...just ask.  The people here are incredibly nice and accommodating.  Other than agriculture tourism is the main source of income.  We never met a cross person.  Everyone was incredibly friendly.
HUGE SHOUT OUT to the Jarnac Family for passing on their notes from their trip a few years ago.  It saved us tons of headaches and we are grateful.  We have saved all of our activities, websites, contacts, etc.. And if you have New Zealand on your list feel free to reach out to us.  We love sharing our love of travel and our successes and failures along the road.
Always add add 10 minutes to every hour travel

Mind your head
Enjoy the outdoors, when not raining
Sleeping was surprisingly comfy

Friday, November 29, 2019

A Long, but Interesting Drive Up the East Coast

We had a few stops we wanted to make up the East Coast of New Zealand, so we awoke early, ate breakfast, and started our drive in our PJs and would change at our first stop.
Our first stop was the Moeraki Boulders.  These are huge spherical rocks on Koekohe Beach on the Otago coast of New Zealand’s South Island.  According to scientists, the formation of these concretions began approximately 60 million years ago within the muddy Paleocene marine sediments of the Moeraki Formation. Each concretion began with an organic nucleus, “such as a leaf, cone, shell, fish-bone, or other relics of plant or animal." Sedimentary particles and minerals, such as calcite, aggregated around the organic matter in concentric layers (layer upon layer). The process is similar to the way a natural pearl forms around a foreign particle within an oyster. In a complex chemical process, the minerals cemented the particles together. The process continued and the concretions grew slowly over millions of years. (Source:

Note, if traveling to this location...go straight to the car park, which is free, but a 3 minute walk up the beach to the boulders.  Or turn left to a car park with a cafe, where they charge a "donation" to use their stairs to walk to the boulders which are right below the cafe.

Our next stop was for the nerds in us....the Steampunk Headquarters, which also happened to be in the beautiful quaint town of Omaru, New Zealand.  It is in the Victorian District and lived up to its district.  This incredibly beautiful town left us yearning to come back.  Cafes, distilleries, and art galleries lined the cobbled street leading us to the very cool, but very out of place Steampunk Headquarters.  What a crazy place!  We got in for $20NZD on the family pass.  You were allowed to touch and flip switches if you saw them.  Apparently, their locals are known for being passionate and quirky.  We loved it and wished we had more time here.  For more info click here.  Mom and Dad were thrilled to finally find their art piece for this trip as well in a gallery here.  A canvas piece by Christchurch artist, Diana Adams will be hanging in our Kirkwood condo once it makes its trip across the Pacific.

Now the mad dash to Christchurch as we had a 5:15 booking for a Maori experience.  And currently our "navi" (their term for GPS) had us arriving just in time, but that was not driving a huge motorhome which wasn't allowed over 90km/hr.  So we drove and watched our buffer time slip away.  We finally called and canceled our ride from the RV park to the location for the evening's activity.  We learned schools let out about 3:30-4PM and we hit several towns which were completely stopped up.  Dad got very good at maneuvering the RV through the neighborhood streets in Christchurch to get us to the Ko Tāne  Maori Experience. We made it with 20 minutes to spare, so we freshened up in the RV and the manager was worried about us and was ringing Dad's phone as we walked in.

Kind of the "luau" of New Zealand.  We had a walk with our group and learned how tribes greeted each other, learned about their music, games, shelter, and hunting practices.  From there we went into a performance tent and learned more about their fighting tools and the best was the boys learning the Haka.  We had only seen it before matches of their National Rugby Team, the All Blacks, and in response to the Christchurch shooting.  Some of the most powerful hakas we watched before our trip were by students in response to the shooting:  These ceremonial chants/dances are an expression of emotions.  The most notable pieces other than the words are the shaking of hands, stamping of feet, beating on chests, enlargement of eyes, and the sticking out of the tongue, and the releasing of the breath/life.  After the performance, we went on to have our traditional Hangi, meal.  Another form of pit roasting we dined on lamb, chicken, pork, various salads, veggies, and the New Zealand sweet potato, kumara.  For dessert more Hoky Poky ice cream aside a traditional Pavlova, which is a meringue topped with fruit and custard generally.  Mom was super excited, so much so an Aussie Mom sitting across from her wrote down her recipe for pavlova that she fixes every year for Christmas.  Our experience was also in a reserve with native animals, so we got to feed the deer...yep those same ones that are raised by farmers for food. 
Stuffed full and back in the RV we ventured about 10 minutes up the road to our final Top 10 in Christchurch.  Gotta love the check-in  Very modern with electric glass sliding doors to the bathrooms, this was one very busy as a lot of people start their trips here...or like us, end it.  Our last night in the RV was spent talking about our favorites...favorite campgrounds, people we met, the food we ate, things we did.  Tomorrow we say goodbye to our home on wheels and head for Auckland.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Change from the Norm; Ag, Chocolate, and Definitely Different

After more rain, we awoke in Te Anau and had a warm breakfast of eggs, sausage, and toast with more Manuka Honey.  The eggs here are incredibly fresh and the sausage is hand-made in the groceries as well.  Coffee in hand it was time to cross the country again from the west and the Tasman Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean.  The drive would take us about 4 hours.

Today was a beautiful mix of agriculturally-based landscapes.  Farms of animals....sheep/lamb, beef, and venison.  Yes, they have deer farms here.  It's spring, so kidding central.  Most sheep/lamb had 1 to 2 babies close by in the fields.  We noted most of the calves had been separated from the heifers already and were in separate pastures closer to the home/barn.  Another huge industry in this area was timber.  The trees grow really fast here, so on the hills were large groves just planted, growing, ready for harvest, or having been harvested and now they were clear-cutting and burning the stumps, preparing to re-plant.  Ally did some research and found 45% of the land in New Zealand is utilized for agriculture.  Impressive!

And we can tell you in all of our travels it is one of the most environmentally friendly countries.  All of our takeaway (carry-out) containers have been recyclable.  All our take away utensils have been bamboo.  There is never a trash bin without a recycling receptacle right beside it and usually multiple (plastic, paper, glass, and aluminum/metal).  And we have noticed environmentally friendly things in the US like steel straws or hydro flask type containers that are super expensive there are much more affordable here.

Today we drove to the port town of Dunedin.  We arrived just before 2PM and found parking was horrendous near the city center.  Luckily another kind RV'er pulled out of their spot and blocked a bunch of parked cars while they routed their next stop, so we could get a spot.  The first time we've paid for parking, but only $5 for the day.

We booked a tour of Ocho, a hand-crafted chocolate factory, that is exploding thanks in large to a crowd-funding that raised 2 million NZD in 48 hours after the local Cadbury plant closed.  Started by a local artist/journalist, Liz Rowe, the community is quite behind it and they can hardly keep up with national demand and do not export yet.  They source all their cocoa beans from farmers in the Pacific Islands.  Every step of the process is done by hand, even to the wrapping of the bars and sticking of the labels.  At the end of the factory tour, our guide took us through a tasting, which had us trying cocoa beans from field to finish and then we compared their chocolates against commercial chocolate.  WOW!  What a difference.  And which lucky family members are getting this incredible treat for the holidays.

Afterward, we walked into town and through/past the famous railroad station.  Up at the city center, we were disappointed as it felt like we were in Italy as all stores close at 4PM and most restaurants were closed between 3-5/6.  And of course, when did we get there...4:30.  The farmers market was also packing up.  There was some nice architecture with Scottish and European influence.

We tucked into another Top 10 for the evening.  This one is probably our least favorite thus far.  So excited to have a heated pool the kids found it locked and empty.  The kitchen and amenities were a little more run down and smaller.  But we have an early morning date with the east coast, so the kids played on the trampoline, while Dad and Mom fixed dinner.  A quick game of Scrabble, homework, and then some Lolly Cake and off to bed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our family and friends in the US!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Is it a Fiord/Fjord or a Sound? - Te Anau and Milford Sound

This morning we awoke in another Top 10 RV Park.  This time in Te Anau.  Another very cramped RV park in a small lake town, but it was raining most of the time, so we were inside the RV or the common areas on the resort most of the time.  The kids met “Ollie” the campground cat. 

A quick, cold breakfast and we were picked up by our driver with Southern Discoveries in a van at 8:30AM.  We were taken just up the road where we met our small coach/bus with about 16 other people on it and our 6 from the van made 22.  We learned our driver, Reese, was the “Personality of the Year” for the company and he was delightful.  On what would be our 3-hour drive to Milford Sound he gave us lots of facts and made several wonderful stops for photos and 15 to 20-minute walks.  At one we even got to see a native New Zealand parrot.  Quite mischievious we were told.  So really the driving time was less than 2 hours.  The BIG buses which held more like 100 people did not make stops, so definitely worth it.

Interesting facts:
  1. New Zealand is one of the only places in the world that does not have snakes
  2. The only native mammal to New Zealand is a bat.  All others were introduced by settlers.
  3. A lot of birds are flightless because there were no predators until settlers introduced them.
  4. Captain Cook passed Milford Sound twice because he was circumnavigating and charting New Zealand from too far out at sea to spot it…as well as the other sounds, so early maps of New Zealand are missing all the Fjords.
  5. Milford Sound is actually a FJORD.  Fjords are actually carved by glaciers and sounds by rivers.  Fjords are more U-shaped and Sounds are V-shaped.  Oh, the name was not a mistake…it was the ego of the original Welsh settler who refused to name the area after a Norwegian-based word.

This morning when we awoke it was pouring and we were very concerned about what our day would hold, but on our journey, we learned also that this is one of the wettest areas on earth and that the literally thousands of waterfalls we were seeing were all produced by the rain.  On the drive, there is only 1 that is naturally occurring and on the “Sound” there are only 2.  If they do not have rain for a single day 90% of the waterfalls dry up and if they lack rain for 3 or more days they all do, but the 3 naturally occurring ones and they consider themselves in a drought.
Once at the “Sound” we went to the boat port and got our picnic lunches (sandwich, 2 pieces of fruit, cheese and crackers, crisps (aka potato chips), cookies, and a piece of chocolate…well worth the fee).  Alec was super disappointed as we were getting on the smallest catamaran in the port…which still seated easily 50 people and we only had about 30 at this point.  But we would quickly learn this was the way to go.  Our boat could get closer to the side of the “Sound” and under….and I do mean UNDER massive waterfalls.

The area is nicknamed the “Shadowlands” for good reason, but it was one of the most amazing sites we have ever seen.  We got soaked to the bone from standing out on the boat’s roof getting our “glacial facial” from the waterfalls and enjoying the crew's comedic soundtracks blasted over the speakers like Neil Diamonds Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head and ACDC Thunderstruck just in time for a true portion of the storm that included lightning and thunder.  We were grateful for the hot tea and coffee inside the cabin.

We would do a stop at an Underwater Observatory where we would also learn about Deep Water Emergence and the fact that the water that flows down the waterfalls from the rain collects tannins from the mosses and colors it a yellow then creates a 3-6 meter layer of fresh water on top of the saltwater that due to it’s cold and density does not mix and instead blocks out the light.  And below it you will find sea creatures that generally only live in the deepest parts of the oceans as they are tricked with the cold and lack of light to thinking this is their natural habitat.  This observatory gave us a glimpse into this.  A large ferry picked us up and took us back to port with lots of rocking and rain as the storm was now full-on.

An AMAZING day we slept most of the way back in the coach and enjoyed hot showers and a dinner of soup and grill cheese in the RV.  Then we hung out in the common room and plotted our final days in NZ.  Next up…we’re bucking the traditional routes and headed to the east coast, and Dunedin.

AND LASTLY kudos to Reese our driver…he did earn driver of the year from us.  Mom left her phone in her seat pocket and at about 7pm we found a note on our RV window asking if we left a phone on the bus and to come to our RV Park Office.  Reese had found it, seem the kids’ photos on the lock screen, and knew exactly who we were and where we were staying.  It helps when we are the only kids on the tour. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Queenstown: A Quick Stop and We're OK with That

About a 2 hour drive and we found ourselves in beautiful Queenstown.  Another lake town it was gorgeous and on our drive in saw the perfect example of how Lonely Planet gave it the title the "Adventure Capitol of the World" when we drove right past the AJ Hacket original bungy location located on the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge.

We made our way to the end of the esplanade and parked our RV and were met by our "extreme" sport of choice for the day, Segway Guide, Kevin from Segway on Q.  We got our driving lesson and were off.  The first bit was tricky as we literally maneuvered our way around all the tourists and literally through restaurants in the lakefront tourist area with tables full of wine glasses and people enjoying a lovely meal.  Kevin stopped numerous times and gave us lots of information.  Including...many stories about how the Kiwi people got their nickname overseas, including the one about soldiers using the boot polish with the bird on the can.  For more check out this article:  We also learned to not offend we should always refer to the "kiwi fruit" and not simply "kiwi."  Kevin was great and we went all along the lake and even into the Queentown Gardens, which also includes a disc golf course where we all played a hole and indoor ice skating rink.  Beautiful!

After we safely returned our Segways after our 2-hour tour we returned to our camper and had lunch there.  Then a 5-minute walk into the main town center we enjoyed Patagonia Ice Cream.  Dad had the tradition NZ favorite the Hokey Pokey and the kids amazing flavors in dipped waffle cones and Mom, a Patagonia special flavor white chocolate and macadamia nut.

Queenstown was beautiful, but it was very, very busy and lots of tourists and tourist shops.  So we opted just for the afternoon and then hit the road to Te Anau, which would be our gateway to the Sounds...I mean Fjords....I mean Sounds.  Stay tuned and we will explain.

Beautiful Day in Wanaka: Fast Boats, Beautiful Walk, and Good Friends

We woke early in our new holiday park, Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park.  This one is much busier than any others we have been to thus far.  And much tighter.  That did not deter us from setting up our table and enjoying french toast with Manuka Honey (heated in the microwave as it is more of a paste) instead of honey.  This honey is produced from the nectar of the Manua Tree.  Super delish...definitely bringing home for holiday gifts.
At 9:30AM our next adventure picked us up at reception.  Tracy the very friendly driver for Go Jets Wanaka.  We chatted along the way and learned they had received a lot of rain in the last few weeks.  We did not know how much until we got to the river and learned it is flowing 3x more than normal and is 3 meters higher than normal.  In fact, all geared up in spray jackets and life jackets we climbed in the jet boat and it immediately sucked up an invasive grass that had been set free from the bank with the heavy flow.  We actually had to pull the boat out, remove it from the intake, relaunch and we were off.  Oh my...our driver Pat was great.  The boulders we would usually be dodging in this crazy ride were submerged, so he used the trees on the river bank to thrill us with near misses along with the crazy traditional 360s.  The kids had a blast and even though we were teased initially for our spray jackets we quickly learned well worth it.  The back row was without them and was soaked including we would learn a minor league Rugby player, who we were later told is good enough and should be playing for the All Blacks in a couple of years.  James is all we got on the name as we didn't want to pry.  Super fun!  Highly recommend.

Tracy gave us a ride back into town and recommended a coffee shop, Urban Grind, and lunch places.  We took her advice on the coffee shop and the kids enjoyed not only a beverage, but it was accompanied by a large chocolate stick.  YUM!  Coffee in hand we as usual for our travels found a playground right on the banks of Lake Wanaka and the kids played while we enjoyed.  More walking and sightseeing than a way too big lunch at the Lake Bar, which is also a Monteith Brewery location.  The portions in NZ we are finding are even bigger than American, so yay for more leftovers.
We went to a shop or two and then Alec wasn't feeling well, so we headed back to the RV park, ~25min walk along the lake.  We all got showers, which so far have been free at all the parks.  Yes, out RV has a shower, but the ones at the RV parks have been spotlessly clean, large, and for the girls...have hair dryers.  We also did laundry, which was expensive....$3 NZD a wash and $4 NZD a dry.  Now had we had time the park actually had communal clotheslines.  After a rest, we utilized the one-way (in to town only) shuttle our RV park offers every 30 minutes.

We walked a few stores and realizing our time is really going quickly and we really needed to start getting gifts for family and friends.  But our time was brief as we were excited to be seeing Penny Wilson and her husband John.  Now we are lucky that a lot of times when we travel we take the opportunity of friends living overseas and pay them a visit.  Penny's daughter married a good friend of Mom's from college.  We first met her when they were traveling the US in a VW camper van and came to Tahoe in the height of a snowstorm and stayed and skied with us a few days.  Then we saw them before their wedding in the Midwest.  And after they were married and had one child and another on the way we joined them in Tuscany for several days and then again we paid them a visit when they loved in St John's  Anywho, we always knew we had to look up Penny when we went to New Zealand and are we ever glad we did.  We were spoiled with the most incredible meal and they shared their home, including all the stories behind the art pieces and John's ties to the community.  All of this was with an incredible view of the lake.  We only hope that we can repay their hospitality one day or at least pay it forward to all who visit us.

Tucked into bed, tummies, and hearts full, we quickly fell asleep and despite many tempting reasons to stay we decided we needed to head on down the road to Queenstown in the morning.