Sunday, November 30, 2008

All good things must come to an end...

The last 2 days of our journey involved fewer thrills and more driving… but we still squeezed in enough fun!

Before leaving Wellington, we visited the parliament buildings (as Wellington is the capital of NZ- not Auckland, but Wellington).

We assume that the buildings follow this pattern: right to left = oldest to newest. The building on the far left is called the ‘Beehive’. Can you tell why?! (PLEASE tell me you can tell why!)

I thought this guy was the first Prime Minister of NZ.

Then I saw that this guy was Prime Minister BEFORE him, so we assumed that HE was the first Prime Minister.

We need to brush up on our history apparently. I just looked it up, and they were the 14th and 15th Prime Ministers. OOPS, we were a little off. We weren’t there on a tour day, okay? We had to do a lot of our own speculating (which we apparently weren’t too successful with).

This picture we took specifically with our green-thumbed Mommas in mind.

When we were finished snapping pictures of everything possible at the parliament buildings, we drove, drove, drove, (napped), and then drove some more until we arrived at Ohakune Top 10. This was one of our less exciting evenings as it was dedicated mainly to Lowell’s school work, but we did go out for STEAK. I couldn’t figure out what I was hungry for, then I smelled someone’s delicious barbequing and decided, “STEAK. MUST HAVE STEAK!” So, we went to a steakhouse in honour of the final night of our wicked awesome holiday. We weren’t TOO extravagant, however, as we shared ONE plate, and also received a discount because we’re Top 10 members. We really made a little moola go a long way (are you proud Dads?)

On our way out of town the next morning, we had to get pictures of the giant carrot. THESE PICTURES ARE FOR YOU AUNTIE COLLEEN!

Let’s zoom out and see just how big this carrot is.

That’s a big carrot. I think Lowell agrees.

We asked a local about the significance of the carrot, and this was her response: “Ohakune is known for its produce. Specifically, it's potatoes, but who would put up a giant spud?”

Let me interject here. VAUXHALL, ALBERTA. That’s who.

(Meet Sammy & Samantha Spud- Vauxhall's mascots)

Then she continued, “Actually, I think someone had a giant carrot they wanted to get rid of, and the town was looking for something big to put in that spot, so they took it.”

Hmmmm… interesting…

I then looked it up, and apparently Ohakune is traditionally known as the “Carrot Capital" of New Zealand. That makes a LITTLE more sense.

As we continued our drive, we stopped a few times to take pictures of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom).

Mt Ruapehu is NZ’s largest ski area. You can ski on both sides of the STILL ACTIVE volcano (apparently it erupted last year!). Ohakune is on the south side of the mountain, and is a popular ski town in the winter.

Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom) was the volcano in Lord of the Rings, and it’s the youngest volcano in the area. CELEBRITY MOUNTAIN! CELEBRITY MOUNTAIN!

From there we drove the rest of the way to home sweet home. It was an absolutely fabulous holiday and totally worth it even though we're still catching up on work/school. I think Lowell should drop his Masters program and become a pro holiday planner. The guy is a natural!

So, to sum up, we drove a total of 1800kms in 31 hours, and we did it over 7 days. AWESOME!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Excuse me sir, is this paradise?!

(Appletree beach in Abel Tasman National Park)

Day #4 here we go!

The main item on the agenda for day #4 was kayaking through the Abel Tasman (National park).

On our way to Abel Tasman from Blenheim, we enjoyed a brief coffee/walk in Nelson. It's a neat place as far as cities go (but we have no pictures, so you'll have to trust us). Moving on...

At noon we hopped aboard the water taxi that transported us to the beach where we would begin our kayak trip—my first time ever in a kayak!

The driver of the water taxi was quite a card, and I experienced some of my more gullible moments in life. He told us that Peter Jackson (who made the Lord of the Rings) donated this split rock to Abel Tasman:

He went on to say that since tourists preferred to see birds on it, they invested in a mechanical bird so there would be at least one bird there at all times. I never know if these kiwis are kidding or not, but I totally believed him! I know I know, once a blonde always a blonde…

Upon arriving at the beach, we were introduced to our guide/group and given instructions. We were in a group with an American couple and a Belgian man, and our guide’s name was Ryan. Ryan was a textbook Kiwi. He said every typical kiwi phrase like every 2 seconds “Choice!; Cheers!; Sweet as!; Aye; Mate” etc etc etc. We loved him. He was awfully entertaining!

It was EXTREMELY windy outside, and at points it felt like we were white water kayaking! About 30 seconds into the ride, my over-sized (and very protective!) hat flew into the ocean. Lowell gallantly retrieved it from the torrential waters, and I plopped the sopping wet slab of material back on my head. I was a tad paranoid about it flying off again, so I had it pressed directly against my face, and I cricked my neck so I could see through the tiny space under the rim. My hat never did fly off again, but BOY WAS MY NECK SORE!

By the way, I STRONGLY recommend Lowell as a kayaking partner. He’s a very powerful man! I stopped a couple times to adjust my hat or sunglasses (or, let’s face it, just to take a break), and the kayak continued to cruise along at the same speed! I was working hard, I SWEAR! I don’t know how THAT happened..

(a splash left a mark on the lens here and we didn't notice it for quite some time,
so try to ignore the blurry patch in the middle of many of these images. *smile*)

At about the halfway point, we stopped at Appletree beach for a little exploring and a siesta! Okay, I was the only one who actually NAPPED (sunshine=heatstroke; heatstroke=SLEEPINESS), but everyone eventually joined me for a rest.

The remainder of the kayak trip involved less tempestuous winds, and we arrived safely at our destination.

We then dragged our exhausted little butts into our campervan and headed to the Top 10 campground in Motueka. This campground was the BOMB! It had a hot tub (aka “spa pool”) in a private little hut:

A giant chess board:

And a huge colourful inflated pillow:

On morning #5, we TECHNICALLY should’ve headed directly to Picton in order to ensure prompt arrival at the ferry terminal, but who wants to leave right away when there are so many TOYS at the campsite?

So Lowell and I played.

Lowell insisted on taking pictures of me in place of the ‘queen’ on the chess board. I was a little embarrassed as a group of young adults were staring at us. I smiled awkwardly and the little photo session couldn’t be over soon enough! Later, when we were making our way back to our van from the giant pillow, we noticed the same group of young adults taking the EXACT PICTURES we just were. Identical poses and everything. I guess I had no reason to be embarrassed!

Anyhoo, we finally decided that we really should get our rears on the road. We called the ferry company and asked how far in advance we should be there. They said one hour at the absolute latest. OOPS! If we sped the entire way, the EARLIEST we could arrive was 30 minutes before departure. In hindsight, I really don’t know WHAT we were thinking.

Well, we braved the crazy windy roads and sped our way to Picton (as mentioned in previous posts, I quickly became a pretty fearless driver around here. Except when motor bikes pass in the middle of undivided highways with oncoming traffic. That still freaks me out). The constant construction slowed us down a bit, but we still arrived at the ferry terminal 15 minutes before departure. When we picked up our (reserved) tickets, we inquired with a hint of panic in our voices, “Will we still be able to get on this ferry?” With a glint of amusement in her eye, the attendant said “Of course!” And pointed us in the right direction. As soon as we turned, we noticed there were heaps of cars still waiting. THEY MADE US FEARFUL FOR NO REASON! Sneaky sneaky.

So we drove onto the ferry. I ALMOST hit a car, but I didn’t, so that’s more of a non-story (but still humiliating because the dude in the nearly victimized car looked really nervous- but it wasn’t my fault. Really! Those corners were tight.)

Lowell was eager to get out on the deck to watch the scenery pass by and say good-bye to the South Island and hello to the North Island. I tried, but my motion sickness kicked in, and I had to sleep (it’s how I cope with motion sickness). So, I made myself comfortable while Lowell enjoyed the view. This is apparently the nicest ferry ride in the world- reportedly more like a cruise.

(We're on our way! And the truck in the lower right corner is filled- and I mean filled- with cows.)

At 5:30pm we arrived in Wellington (NZ’s capital), and set up camp for night #5.

Day #6 still to come…

Friday, November 28, 2008

Quite possibly the longest, most event-filled day of all time…

Day # 3 of campervanning it from the South Island to the North Island was jam packed and full o’ fun!

If you recall, we spent night number 2 in Hanmer Springs. We woke up bright and early and, after eating up the last 30 minutes of the internet we purchased, we headed to Kaikoura. Our first stop in Kaikoura was Cushchine Animal Farm Park. (Basically a petting zoo for kids. No we are not kids. No, we did not have kids with us. And yes, we loved every minute of it.) After the owner got over her initial shock of having 2 fully grown adult visitors sans kids, she sent us out back with cups of animal treats in hand.

And now we have a ridiculous amount of animal pictures…

I just wanted to stuff this adorable little goat in my pocket. We didn't come with a child, but we nearly left with a kid! (HAHAHA)

The leetle goat and the leetle lamb were best mates.

Sharing the love with the donkeydonk. HEE HAW.

Charming isn’t he?

Next were the llamas! As we were luring them to the fence, we were jolted by an obnoxiously loud snort. This rather ghastly looking creature had appeared directly beneath us—eager for someone to throw a bucket of slop in his mouth. I will admit though, he was pretty cute in his own little way.

Also very charming.

Lowell’s camp name was Llama, so they are near and dear to his heart. I think there’s a natural connection here!

The big goats were rather hyperactive and clingy. I’m pretty sure they thought Lowell was Santa Claus (surely it was the BEARD that threw them off).

This animal was particularly not Canadian...

A wallaby!!

Check out the backdrop of the farm. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all...

We hit the road again and ended up at the Ohau Point Seal Colony. There was only one (alive) seal (who looks like an extension of my head in the following picture), but the view was spectacular!

A few minutes down the road, we parked the van and hiked a random trail on the side of the highway. We were rewarded with a lovely waterfall and a playful seal pup at the end! Someone left a tennis ball up there, so Lowell had a little game of fetch with the pup.

(Note the conflicting shirts...which are also rather festive!)

Next stop…MORE ANIMALS!!

I already described our merino sheep visit, but I will include another picture of this adorable ball of fluff. SO SOFT!

After the sheepies, we stopped at a cafĂ© upon Mike and Fiona’s insistence (M&F are some of our super kiwi friends... THANKS M&F!). CHECK THIS PLACE OUT. The view. OH THE VIEW!

And the coconut cake wasn’t bad either.

After we jacked ourselves up on caffeine (and sugar), we headed further north to Blenheim where we spent the night with Canadian-connection-friends. Angela, Owen, and their TWINS!!! I have a special spot in my heart for twins...I couldn't imagine why! :)

Owen (the father) is a sergeant in the air force, as well as a skilled aircraft technician instructor. Looks like little John is following in his Dad’s footsteps.

Lowell read with Sharon (in her adorable little school girl uniform!). Awwwwwww…

The next morning we woke up and said “BYE BYE BLENHEIM! HELLO ABEL TASMAN!”

To be continued…