WARNING: MASSIVE UPDATE WITH HEAPS OF PICTURES!
Picking up where I left off back in December, my next topic is the Webster family vacation (less two or five). As I mentioned in my previous post, my sister and parents were on their way to meet me in Christchurch. They came for two weeks in total, and we got to see some key New Zealand sights while they were here. My brother, sister-in-law, and all three family dogs missed out on the trip, but it was nice to have at least part of my family here for the holidays! I know it's a lot of pictures but I divided it into a few sections, so you can always just look at part of it and come back later!
A NEW WAY TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS
Our first day was spent in Christchurch where we walked around a bit, got some food, and saw some earthquake damage.
Most of this day was pretty low key, as some of us were a bit exhausted from traveling!
Day two was Christmas Eve and we started at Joe’s Garage (recommended by Keith and Cristin - yum!)
We weren’t sure it still existed when we encountered this a half a block away! But, alas, we had a tasty meal and set off to see some sights around Christchurch.
We took a ride up the gondola for some nice panoramic views.
They separated the four of us as it was quite windy that day and they apparently weighed down the cabins with sandbags.
At the top, we took a short walk outside (despite disbelief about our interest in doing so from the gondola operators) and soon discovered what exactly they meant by “it’s windy up there!”
We grabbed some coffee at the top and returned to town, wandering through the botanical gardens on our way back to the hotel.
Kimberly and I went on a mission to gather some baked goods for breakfast, and couldn’t resist stopping at Sticky Fingers for their famous Bloodies (another brotherly recommendation that was well worth it!)
That evening, we celebrated Christmas with a few gifts (complete with stockings my mom smuggled from home) then went out to dinner.
We went to the Pescadore at the George hotel and it was by far the fanciest meal I have ever enjoyed! This is just my first of several courses (described in the menu as a salad). Each course had its own paired wine to boot! Yum.
Christmas Day was partially spent traveling to Queenstown. Here I had the chance to meet up with Louise and hang out at her much-hoped-for Christmas BBQ!
She also came out to dinner with us to a nice French restaurant (again with the fancy meal). It was great to share the holiday with her and my family really enjoyed meeting one of my fellow travelers! Note the picture of my dessert they just whipped up when they found out I was lactose intolerant!
QUEENSTOWN DAY TRIPS
On Boxing Day we took a Jetboat tour of the Dart River. I’m not sure my mom knew what she agreed to when signing up for it, but she was a good sport about it! The kids behind us in this picture, however, spent most of the ride with their heads ducked down against the seat in front of them!
Dad seemed to really enjoy himself, but Mom seemed a bit relieved when the boat tour was over!
After we returned to Queenstown, Kimberly and I took a hike up behind our hotel on Mile Creek Track.
There were some great views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding towns!
Later that night we met up with Mom and Dad at Fergburger (another not-to-miss stop on Keith’s list) which was fantastic! I ended up going vegan with their tofu tempura and certainly did not regret it. Their buns may be the size of your head, but there is not sacrificing quality for quantity! We also found out that night that there had been another aftershock in Christchurch. Quite happy we flew out on Christmas!
Our second day trip from Queenstown was out to Milford Sound (which is more accurately a fiord, but we’ll forgive whoever named it). It’s about a 5 hour drive from Queenstown since you have to go all the way around a huge mountain range, so it’s nice to break up the trip with a few stops along the way. We saw Mirror Lakes and a few other short walks off the main road. The views as we approached Milford Sound just seemed to get better and better!
Dad spotted this at one of our stops (we were supposed to be admiring a pretty neat chasm where water has carved smooth shapes into huge pieces of rock over time). He had me take a picture for our family friend Don, but I figured there might be a few others who would appreciate it…
We took a boat tour through Milford Sound which was a little overcrowded given the rain.
Apparently it is very difficult to catch a clear day here to admire the mountains, but if you do there aren’t as many spectacular waterfalls to see!
I meant to take a picture of us admiring the nearby waterfall, but our boat driver decided to drive us right into it!
We were slightly drenched after that incident (not that we were dry to start with because of the rain) but we did learn you should actually try to listen to the narration over the loudspeakers! We headed back to Queenstown for one more night which I spent in the hot tub hanging out with Louise, then we spent the next day traveling to Nelson.
During our first full day in Nelson, Kimberly and Dad went for a bike ride along the Maitai River while Mom and I did a bit of shopping.
We then went out to tour some local vineyards for the afternoon. We had lunch at our first one, and visited several others. Our favorite tasting was by appointment only at Kina Beach, a vineyard hidden away off of a gravel road. There were alpacas at a farm across the street which Kimberly was quite excited about, and we had a lovely private tasting at the vineyard. I thought this picture captures my sister’s enthusiasm for both photography and wine pretty nicely.
Later that night, Kimberly and I walked up to the center of New Zealand to admire the view and get a little exercise up the steep hill.
The next day was spent exploring Abel Tasman National Park. Kimberly and I took a bus up to Marahau and rented a tandem kayak for the day.
It was great to be out on the water because I got to see Abel Tasman from a different view than when I hiked it with Louise!
We explored some of the islands and stopped for lunch at one of them.
We then took off for the next leg of our paddle, which included a portion called “the mad mile” - a section of the coast which is very exposed and has little shelter from the constant headwind that tries to push you backwards. We pushed through it without much trouble, but it was definitely a two person job as we didn’t seem to make much progress if one of us took a break from paddling! We stopped around the last point at a lovely little deserted beach for some exploring and a bit of a rest.
We watched some boats go by and decided we had enough time to try to make it to the far island in this picture where there is supposedly a seal colony. We had to catch a water taxi a bit further inland than where we stopped, so decided to see how far we reached in half the time we had left, then turn around.
We powered through the wind again and reached the island just within our set time limit. Much to our dismay, we couldn’t find all the seals that were supposed to live there. As we turned to leave, however, we did spot one asleep on some rocks! We rode the tail winds into Anchorage were we were just in time for our water taxi to take us back to Marahau!
Back in Marahau, we met up with Mom and Dad for a coffee before heading back to Nelson. They had driven up and taken a walk on the beach in the afternoon then sat at a café enjoying the view while waiting for us to return.
The next day we had an early morning start in order to drive out to Picton for the ferry up to the North Island.
NEW YEAR’S ON A DAIRY FARM
After a couple more hours of driving, we reached a familiar dairy farm where I had spent some time in November. Kimberly and Meg had a long-awaited reunion, and the kids got to meet “Auntie Kim” and our parents. We had a nice New Year’s Eve BBQ that night and spent the next few days hanging out with the kids.
Everyone (including Yulana) seemed to remember me and, as Eilidh pointed out “a few things have changed since you were here last!” She was mostly referring to her two-wheeled biking skills (sans training wheels), but Summer is now fully potty-trained and Yulana is crawling and pulling herself up to standing!
Mom made friends with Yulana and seemed to enjoy having some kids around (however busy the household can get) and Dad bonded with Joshua a bit while teaching him to do Sudoku.
Auntie Kim was popular with the various art projects she brought along.
Much of New Year’s Day was spent designing and creating numerous Shrinky Dinks!
We enjoyed some time catching up with Meg and Todd and the kids (Kimberly had last seen the family when Eilidh was a wee infant) and we all headed over to Todd’s parents’ house for their New Year’s Day gathering.
Having several families combined meant there were heaps of kids running around! This just the younger bunch… how many cousins can fit on one bench?
Mom enjoyed making friends with the youngest member of the family while Kimberly and I tried our hands at a game of Cricket. It was lovely to be invited in to celebrate the holiday with some “extended family,” even though they clearly already had plenty of mouths to feed!
The next day we drove to the beach for a picnic. Now when I say drove to the beach, I mean we drove to the spot we wanted to sit, got out of the cars, and put our blankets down.
Apparently in New Zealand, the beach is a road (complete with speed limit signs)!
After lunch Dad took Joshua and Eilidh down for a bit of a swim. Kimberly and I commented about how it was just like when we were little as Eilidh quickly figured out that instead of jumping over the waves, she could grab my dad’s hands and have him lift her over them! It wasn’t long before Joshua wanted a turn too, and my dad turned into the regular jungle gym that he used to be with us as kids!
Yulana seemed to LOVE her first beach experience and was not content sitting on a blanket. She crawled around trying to eat all of the sand she could (and whatever else she could find to put in her mouth)! At one point she must have gotten distracted while crawling and ended up doing a face plant in the sand! Though slightly uncomfortable, she didn’t seem to mind the sandy face until her mom tried to wipe it off!
After she got cleaned up a bit, we tried to keep Yulana away from the sand, but Meg said she was still finding it long after her bath that evening!
There are many things that are different in New Zealand than what we have in the states. One major difference I found is in their marshmallows. Kiwis think they know what marshmallows are, but to me they taste like Circus Peanuts (not just the orange ones, but the multi-colored ones). They are smaller than American marshmallows and not so gooey inside. Because of these differences, kiwis also don’t roast their marshmallows. I asked my parents to smuggle in some key ingredients, and we set to make some s’mores!
Joshua and Eilidh learned how to roast the perfect marshmallow (over the grill due to a fire ban in the area) and assemble a s’more. Though it was a new and exciting flavor, Joshua seemed to think they were a bit too sweet!
Eilidh, on the other hand, was quite smitten with hers!
I think Meg and Todd even got to try some of the American gooeyness and it was a fun evening socializing with the family.
It turned out to be a long day, so the next morning I read Tikki Tikki Tembo to the kids (my Christmas present to them). They were pretty into the story and Meg reported the next day that Joshua had already learned how to say that great long name by heart! Note that the Phillies t-shirts my parents brought them were already a hit!
Yulana and I had some last minute bonding (she also seemed to like the Shrinky Dink birthday necklace her big sisters made me!)
We all went out to the local honey shop for some ice cream and honey.
Then said some goodbyes and hit the road for a long day of driving up to the Coromandel Peninsula.
COROMANDEL AND AUCKLAND GOODBYES
Instead of driving for eight hours straight, I suggested we stop in Taupo to visit the swimming hole near Huka falls I went to back in November. We got some lunch then went for a walk down to the river for a swim. This is the spot where a hot spring feeds into the freezing river so you can find the perfect temperature for a hot tub, depending on how close to the hot spring you get! When I was there before, it was still springtime and the dozen or so people were huddled under the bridge because any further out was way too cold. Note that when we stopped in January (peak summer time!) there were dozens of people out enjoying the swimming hole! Not only that, but you couldn’t even go near the bridge because it was so hot you burned your feet trying to get to it! It was certainly a nice way to break up the day of travel and we all felt a bit refreshed when we got back on the road!
Our last full day together was spent on the Coromandel Peninsula (a place I have come to know fairly well!) We went on a cave tour from Hahei on an inflatable boat with a hard hull and got to see some sights from different perspective than I had before!
We ventured into some caves and even a huge blowhole. Inside we often spotted jellyfish and other creatures, and in one of them you could see the underside of a fault line, which was pretty neat!
We even spotted a penguin that tried to pretend we weren’t there and swam away casually.
We then drove up to Cook’s Beach and got some lunch at a café I found in my guidebook.
After lunch we went to Shakespeare Lookout (a spot I discovered while kayaking with Nate back in October) to take in the view.
We then hiked down a bunch of stairs to Lonely Bay (a beach that was not quite as deserted as when I was there with Nate, but still not inundated by tourists).
Kimberly, Dad and I took a swim while Mom napped on the beach.
I guess I didn’t mention the wave approaching her in this picture!
Kimberly and I then went and climbed on the rocks along the beach to explore some tide pools.
And I made friends with a crab or two before it was time to head over to Auckland for our last night.
The next day Mom and Kimberly did a little shopping while Dad and I packed up the car. Then we all headed over to Parnell (a neighborhood in Auckland) for some lunch and a bit more souvenir shopping.
After that it was time to head to the airport. Dad and I dropped Mom and Kimberly off at the international terminal.
I said my goodbyes then Dad drove me over to the domestic terminal for my flight back to Nelson before dropping the rental car and joining the others.
It was so great to see family for the holidays and to be able to show them around this beautiful country! I didn’t really feel like I was playing tour guide the whole time, however, because we were exploring things I hadn’t seen before. Those places that were repeats for me we often saw from a different angle than I had already, which kept it interesting! It was certainly a different life than staying in backpackers and cooking for yourself, as I got to stay in hotels and experience lots of restaurants I would not have otherwise been to.
I’m beyond grateful I had the opportunity to spend the holidays with family, but it did make me feel a bit spoiled as many of the travelers I have met were a long way from home, and spent the holidays alone! Sorry for the long update but it was a busy two weeks and hard to narrow down all of the pictures along the way! I hope each of you had a holiday just as special as mine spent 9000 miles away from home but with family just as close as ever! :)