I have been to NZ twice before and remember it SO fondly. The scenery, the sheep, the hiking….through the sheep turd…..all of it. I was looking very forward to showing the kids our favorite spots.
We arrived in Auckland – uneventful…our 15th flight! But getting to the Apex car rental didn’t go so smoothly. We were all tired, hungry, “hangry” and missed our Apex car rental shuttle van. Rich did attempt to chase down the moving van….by shouting and banging on the back window. (psycho Canadian!)….but it worked and the driver circled back. Phew….we get our rental…a VERY low riding Toyota station wagon. There is enough room for us and all our stuff…but we are in real danger of losing the under carriage of the car!
We decided to go to see the new GRINCH movie at the nearest mall. Dinner at the food court….and a movie with popcorn/candy….nothing better for a first NZ experience!
Our great plans for seeing the movie meant that we didn’t arrive at our Airbnb until 10:30pm. We have never arrived at a new spot in the dark…but figured we are expert checker/iners by now……except….. Well, Rich booked this spot…and I didn’t have the details on my emails…and he doesn’t have service on his phone….and blah blah blah….so we arrive down a dark driveway…at a dark house….in the middle of NOWHERE….and all we have to go on is a brief email from the owner saying “the door will be open…we have a Christmas party that night so won’t be around…your rooms are at the back of the house”. Rich is driving…therefore I have to get out and go to the door! There are cars in the driveway….but absolute darkness at the house. With our headlights illuminating the front door…I walk slowly up to the house. There are shoes at the door….big ones..and little ones…..wait – there aren’t supposed to be kids here! Are we at the wrong house? Are we prowlers…in a foreign country….at the wrong house?! I can’t do it!!!! I go back to the car. There is NO WAY I am going to “try the door” as Rich is chirping from the safety of the car! Everyone is nervous now…when…I see it. A flash of light from the veranda off to the left side. “Someone is there!” I say in a hushed whisper… “hello?” I called out…but the light goes out….WHAT THE HECK?! “Hello? …we are here for the bnb?” I tried again….still nothing!!! I know there is a person there…..weird….spooky….I am WAY too tired for this nonsense! I am just getting back into the car…when the front door opens and a lady is standing there. “Hello?” she says with grogginess….but friendly and welcoming too….”where have you been? ….I was expecting you at 6pm?….” And so it goes…..you should always have the emails of the air bnb’s on the phone with service….you should ALWAYS communicate a last minute change of plans…..and you should TRY not to show up after your host has gone to BED! The hosts turned out to be nice people. We were staying in rooms within their house…so not a separate entrance/area that we are used to…which definitely added to the confusion of last night….but hey –this is what adventures are made of.
From Auckland suburbs – we head south toward our much anticipated Tongariro crossing hike. The kids…less anticipating…but expecting a long day of hiking. First, we make a few days pit stop at Rotorua….home of thermal activity! I don’t remember the town being so bustling. We enjoyed our house – right next to a park with “thermal activity” aka – stinking Sulphur pools…but the smell isn’t as bad as I remember it either! Rich and I got to go for runs…I got attacked by a rotten seagull at the water front on a run (why me?!)….and we did some shopping (Christmas is right around the corner).
We went to a Mauri experience dinner – at Te Puia. Lulu loved the dancing and got to go on stage to try her hand with the Poi balls. Wilson and Rich went on stage to participate in the warrior dance..which mostly involves stomping and looking “fierce” with eyes wide open and tongue hanging out! Lulu loves the look…and definitely is trying to become the first female Mauri warrior. The history of the Mauri was interesting, the dinner was tasty (cooked in earthen ovens)…and the geyser at the thermal pools didn’t disappoint!
We also made a stop at an adventure park…full of fun things to try!
Next stop – National Park….and prep for the big hike. The forecast is NOT looking good…but we are trying to prepare for all factors – Rain, wind, and cold—–oh —and grumpy children. We have rain coats, ponchos, toques, mitts, extra warm dry clothes, lots of water, and lots of CANDY all packed in Rich and my pack for the 19km peak to peak Tongariro crossing. We change our transfer but to 6am (WHAT?!) in order to “beat the weather” at the kind advice of the front desk. Up and out the door…to the bus….5:58am….WE CAN DO THIS!
As we drive the 15km to the base of the trek…the rain starts coming down….sideways!!! b/c of the wind…already here. We are officially in the clouds…and getting more and more nervous about spending the day wet and cold and miserable…all to see NOTHING but fog/rain/clouds. The bus stops at the start of the trek. The kind 60 something year old driver says…”Well…welcome to NZ and the Tongariro crossing”….”The weather is poor as you can see” ….”This trek is not easy and there are many exposed spots”…..”If you can’t make it over the summit…please turn back”….”it is Christmas eve…and if you are in trouble up there..we have to call in search and rescue”….”we rescue people off this trek every week”…”please turn back and call for help – we will come to pick you up here again”…..”the ones with kids (looking right at us)….are they going to be ok?”…..Rich pipes up –oh ya…they just did a 48km hike in Tasmania…..oh gosh!…..”IF you choose not to do the hike today….stay on the bus…you will get a full refund…..IF you get off the bus and start…we can’t offer you a refund!”
Well…..that little speech and the family discussion that followed…led to us staying firmly seated in our seats…and returning with the friendly driver. He went on to tell us about how he would have cancelled the busses this morning if it were up to him. The views won’t be worth the suffering…and it is only supposed to get worse – 50km/h winds etc. He reassured us we had made the right choice. Thanks mister bus driver! Rich and I were still disappointed —we were really looking forward to the hike…oh well. A short day hike, time with the kids prepping for Christmas celebrations…..family time still…..it turned out to be a great (and warm…inside) day!…even went rock climbing!
Christmas was VERY special here in National Park – woke up to find Santa and Golden Candy Sparkle (our elf on the shelf) had brought our stockings all the way from home…and filled them up with all sorts of goodies. Candy, clothes, books and games….we are very blessed. The kids reaction was priceless….they were SO HAPPY!
Christmas supper was planned to be a potluck at a family run farm – River Valley Lodge. It turned out to be more of a backpacker/white water rafting spot….and no one was around to join in our potluck! No matter….we had planned an awesome dinner and enjoyed our time together – eating, drinking, playing cards and Cluedo and just hanging out. A special Christmas card from mom and dad was waiting for us there too….THANK YOU!
The next pre-planned adventure in NZ was a family horse ride! Not sure if anyone remembers how very little I like horses —but it is a family Christmas present…so ride on! River Valley stables were great. We got to dress like horse people and this is the first place that really got us to “know our horses” and spend time just walking them in the paddock. It was really run actually. I was riding Mr. T, Lulu was riding Rico (both VERY well behaved – and specially chosen for us!), Rich had Bailey ….he was BIG and “the boss”…therefore put up with Rich’s shananigans taking pictures etc….and Wilson had Fat Boy…..and he was fat! FatBoy turned out to be the trouble maker —always wanting to stop and eat the grass….as his name would suggest! 4 hours with the horses, a gorgeous 2hr trail ride, some SORE hips….all equaled deserving of some fab NZ wine!
So far –despite some weather change of plans…NZ isn’t disappointing again!