A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Days

A Quick Wrap (now that we have recovered from Jet Lag!)

semi-overcast 65 °F
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Some Random Notes as we wrap up our trip by heading across the ferry to the North Island, stopping only to take in the caves we had missed before…

Oh my sea sickness- the Ferry was horrible- the kids begrudgingly did homework, and it was really quite a miserable day of travel. But wow was Wellington a cool payoff! A funky, geeky, quirky small but upscale artsy city as we soon figured out as we saw an amateur rendition of Star Trek in the park next to a playground, then headed to find dinner. We spoke to a local man who recommended we check out the local Professional Soccer Game. (Do you all like Footy, he asked, and Max was ready with a yes!) It sounded like an exciting impromptu thing to check out- and it turned out to be great fun (even though Sara was not at all happy with the decision to sit through yet another soccer game)! We watched the Wellington Phoenix whoop the butt of the Melbourne Victory, 5-0 and listened to some crazy fans chant for 10 FULL Minutes without resting...
Soccer Game

Soccer Game

Sara the Soccer Fan

Sara the Soccer Fan


In the morning we woke up, and headed to the Te Papa Museum. It was by far the SINGLE BEST museum I have EVER been to- even the world history museum in London- we could of spent days there- the kids were absolutely mesmerized with every nook and cranny of the place- every square inch design to WOW or educate persons of all ages. It was a shame we had to leave by 2 to head to Lake Tuapo, but we had to make tracks to fit in all the driving ahead. This part of the trip was literally driving, driving, and driving. We got to Lake Tuapo- a fantastic place, but we just saw the hotel pool, the showers and beds at the Hilton (which was designed to be a two night, reward-us-for driving stay, and we hunkered down. (We cancelled our second day and drove to Waitomo Caves) That is how Sam spent his 8th B-day- which we made up for by delivering a huge triple decker ice cream to the little guy 2 days later in Auckland.
Yep- sick a bit later

Yep- sick a bit later


In the morning we had en early departure, ate “brekkie” on the road and arrived at Waitomo Caves- we hiked and took boats through the stalagmites/stalactites, dark and gorgeous cathedral ceilinged caves with ‘glow worms’- a lightening bug type worm that lives on the ceilings and walls of these dark wet caves. Steve went Black Water Rafting, white water rafting in the dark of the caves (scary, but Jepic) and the kids and Mom went to hit golf balls, went to an Angora shearing farm and then went and got pizza (where the next day I realized I left my purse and cell phone-UGH!!) while we waited for the rafting trip to be over. And then we drove to Auckland.
The Caves

The Caves

The Butz Family Explores the Caves

The Butz Family Explores the Caves


Now our last day was supposed to be filled with shopping & a chartered sail on an America’s Cup racing sail boat- but with rain & 40-65 knot winds, the trip was cancelled. (Super Sad face  ) we just killed time walking the city, eating ice cream, and then heading to the airport to get back to the States!
Our chalk ggodbye

Our chalk ggodbye

Posted by sandlb107 10:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Able Tasman National Park

At the top of the South Island

sunny 74 °F
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Abel Tasman: The longest of all drives, the most remote, most mosquitoes, and definitely the most beautiful place we have seen this trip. Like Fraser Island, we had to take a ferry to get to this spot in NZ. But quite different was the way in which you boarded- you climbed in the 20 person boat IN the PARKING LOT of the AquaTaxi office. We were then attached to a modified John Deere tractor with a lift kit on it, that pulled the boat for about a mile or so down the road to the Abel Tasman Marine park (off the Tasman sea). Now, this body of water has extreme tides of 16 feet difference between hi & lo tide. So at low tide the tractor pulls the boat right out onto the boat launch, onto the sandy sea floor all the way out to the water. It was crazy!
Our Boat

Our Boat


The drive was crazy though, and we even skipped a big scenic thing (Pancake Holes) just to get there faster. It rained about 40% of the time!
Once we got to Mutahua, we had an hour boat ride and our Captain showed us some of the beautiful wildlife along the way, including a family of sea lions, cormorants and blue penguins!
The Ride to our Lodge

The Ride to our Lodge


We were greeted on the beach by the manager of the lodge, Leo. He walked out to the boat that anchored in shallow water, grabbed our luggage, carried the kids across the water, and Steve and I rolled up our pants, hopped out and waded to shore. A huge private beautiful beach with crystal clear water, up we walked to a 1/2 mile boardwalk that led us to a private lodge. (I felt like I was on Fantasy Island!). Our un-air conditioned, no TV, eco hut was tight with the kids sleeping in beds in a loft above our bed and couch. It did cool off at night quite nicely after we paid the price in blood to mosquitoes! WOW they were as bad as the flies were in Australia! There was really nothing to do there at night other that eat dinner from an organic garden to table small restaurant, take walks through the rain forest (bush) and feed raw meat scraps to the giant eels in the wetlands (which was a highlight for the kids!!).
Eels feeding

Eels feeding


Just like on the rest of our South Island experience, it stayed light out until 10/10:30 pm and was bright by 6:30 am. We promptly woke up, had breakfast at the lodge, and then hiked 45 minutes over a rolling hill/mount that led us to a completely remote beach ONLY accessible by foot or kayak. Words cannot describe the crisp clear water at high tide, the 3-4 foot deep estuary at the base of this mountain full of lush vegetation, the color of the sand, the drift wood, the sandbars, it was gorgeous- and we were THE ONLY ONES THERE ALL DAY! Except for a few other folks that walked by from the trail, ‘BUTZ BEACH’ was ours. We built a shelter out of the drift wood for shade, laid right on the sand & played! During the course of the day, the tide went out extremely far and we were able to walk along the cliffs edge, walking through sand, shells, and rocks and exploring the entire coastline.
What a Beach!

What a Beach!

We had it all to ourselves!

We had it all to ourselves!

The Kids Played Maori Tribe

The Kids Played Maori Tribe


We saw stingrays, fish, and all sorts of cool species of birds.

We stayed all day and had a tough hike back (being the kids were hungry…Max tripped and cut himself up quite nicely, and Sara and Sam bickered the entre way!) Good times- but that ended with a few pizzas at an outdoor pizzeria. Yum!

We departed in the morning via boat, then a hook up to a tractor, and went back to the car. From there we headed on up to catch a huge ferry to take us across the sound to Wellington.

Posted by sandlb107 10:48 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Franz Josef Glacier

Driving around the South Island of New Zealand

sunny 57 °F
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This portion of the trip, which seemed so easy to plan back in the spring of 2013, is definitely beginning to take a toll on the family! (although we are trying to stop at fun places along the way like "Puzzle World" in Wanake)
Super Sara

Super Sara


Fun at Puzzle World

Fun at Puzzle World


In order to check out the three main attractions of the South Island of NZ, (Queenstown, Franz Josef, and Able Tasman National Park) we needed to do some serious driving in between stops. And so with Queenstown we started a pattern of having a major driving day (6-8 hours!!!) and then getting to our next destination for a day of rest/exploration, before packing up and driving again. This can be tough on the kids, who are all missing home in some way.
Leaving Queenstown

Leaving Queenstown


The benefit to these monster drives, however, is the ability to really take in some of the most incredible scenery we have seen anywhere, and in this respect the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef did not disappoint. Here, a 75 foot waterfall cascading within a couple hundred yards of the main highway is not an attraction at all, and hardly draws a glance from most drivers! We followed along multiple lakes and rivers, crossing over gorges that dropped hundreds of feet, on the way to the West Coast of NZ. Despite the length, this drive was a highlight in itself!
A Regular Waterfall

A Regular Waterfall


Franz Josef was a small town that seemed to be built on the fact that a giant glacier was advancing through the Southern Alps towards the sea. We stayed at a cool place called the Rainforest Café in a “tree hut”- basically surrounded 360 by rain forest. On the night of our arrival, we joined about 60 “backpackers”- basically 20 year olds hiking through NZ- for Pizza Fest, where for $17.50 you can get all the pizza you can eat. Our kids where in heaven (so was Lisa, who quickly struck up a conversation with a girl who went to Youth’s Benefit elementary school, in Fallston!!!)
Helicopter Ride

Helicopter Ride


The next day we really caught a break from the weather, it was sunny and warm so we did something planned since the beginning of the trip- took a helicopter ride up to the top of the glacier! It was amazing to learn about the glacier, to see it up close, and to actually land on top where Max promptly fell down and started doing snow angels. No one in the family had ever been on a helicopter, I don’t think we will ever forget this…
On the Franz Josef Glacier

On the Franz Josef Glacier


Back down at Franz Josef, we ate lunch and then jumped into a 2 hour guided Quad Bike tour where we snaked our way through the rain forest and down to (and across!) the Franz Josef River caused by the glacier. The kids really enjoyed the Quad bikes although they complained that the guide (they had to be passengers behind Lisa, myself and the guide) went way too slow!
Quad Biking

Quad Biking


Quad Boys

Quad Boys


We ended the day in the Rain Forest hottub and Lisa and I were able to feed the kids leftovers and go out to dinner at “Monsoon,” the onsite restaurant. It was an incredible day but our biggest drive, 8 hours to Able Tasman, was looming when we went to bed…

Posted by sandlb107 02:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Queenstown, New Zealand

The "Adrenaline-Rush" Capital of the World!


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We spent about 6 ½ hours on Sunday on 12th driving from Christchurch to Queenstown, pretty far down on the South Island of New Zealand. The resulting scenery, and town, were worth every single second! Queenstown was amazing, from the moment we arrived (when Max and Lisa promptly lined up to jump off the Kawarau Bridge at the place where Bungy Jumping was invented) to our incredible car ride up and through the “Remarkables” on the way out…
Its a Big Leap

Its a Big Leap

Let me pause by letting Lisa quickly write about Bungy Jumping:
Holy Moly!! I can’t even describe it…. I think the fact that my almost 10 year old son had gone right before me (without any hesitation I might add, and I know, Mom, I know, What the hell was I thinking letting Max do it in the first place???!!! I would of let them all do it if they had weighed enough-) and my husband egging me on to do it was the only way I actually had the gumption to actually leap off the small platform 43 meters up… the thrill was more of the jump than the actual free fall feeling, but the best was the plunge into the water below- it was strangely quiet- I thought I would of screamed the whole way down, but couldn’t even talk until the rescue boat came out to get me. I was sick to my stomach a ½ an hour after I jumped- it was delayed motion sickness, after the adrenaline wore off- I GET the addiction- I am a joyride junkie-Yes, I’d do it again!! (I’m going to have to- Sam was sooo sad he couldn’t do it, and Sara made me promise her I’d do it with her).
With the Water Dunk

With the Water Dunk


He Did It!

He Did It!


Our lodge was fantastic, and after watching Lisa and Max jump it was a nice treat that our hosts had mountain bikes “at the ready” for us when we got there. I promptly went on a great ride on some trails marked “easy” (they weren’t!) from about 8:45pm to 9:30pm (still plenty of sunshine). As we went to bed on Sunday night we were absolutely ready for a great adventured-filled day.
Our Nice Place in Queenstown

Our Nice Place in Queenstown


The next day started with an 8 mile ride along the Lower Shotover River and around the airport and then the entire family went into Queenstown to figure out what to do… The town was set on giant Lake Wakatipu and just driving around was spectacle- I hope the pictures give it justice! Along the streets of the main town, it became clear immediately what everyone here is selling: incredible experiences. There was River Surfing, Kayaking, Canyoning, Abseiling, Rappeling and every other extreme sport you could possibly think of. There were even things that were hard to think of: One brochure had a giant submersible shark you could command that did 18 foot leaps out of the water.
We had long had eyes on a “Jetboat” ride on the Shotover River so we signed up. I would be hard pressed to describe the experience: It was like a Disney ride, except it was longer (about 30 minutes), more beautiful (the scenery along the Shotover River was breathtaking) and more exhilarating. Oh yeah, and it was not a ride! Simply put, it was the coolest experience we have had…
JetBoating

JetBoating


Later in the day, after lunch at an American style diner called Arnolds, we took a gondola to the top of the nearby mountain and did some luging and then a 3 hour “Eco-Tour” which involved ziplining down the mountain (including the steepest tree to tree ziplining in the world). That trip was great but the highlight here was meeting the Australian family who ziplined with us (also with three kids and boy/girl twins). They taught us finally how to understand Cricket- which is everywhere here on TV.
Lisa Ziplining

Lisa Ziplining


All in all, Queenstown was a real highlight of this trip, so much so that I hope to absolutely plan on returning to the South Island some time!

Posted by sandlb107 12:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Christchurch, New Zealand

A city climbing out of a very bad earthquake three years ago...

sunny 65 °F
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We flew into this city, looking down out the plane window at the Southern Alps. It was beautiful & all the Butz’s were happy to be returning to NZ. This time in the south island, headed on a whirlwind driving tour. Our first stop was Christchurch, a city who in 2010/211 had 2 terrible earthquakes, one in the county of Canterbury, and the other city center. Devastatingly, it rendered 70% of the city centre unusable. Many lost their homes and businesses, as one Italian Bistro Owner explained to us as we had dinner in his second and ¼ smaller temporary location a few kilometers away. (By the way, the food was some of the best we had on this trip.) Many people had to move away to temporary housing or relocated altogether to find work. Needless to say amongst this sadness was some really cool hope that shined through the bareness of this concrete and fenced up town.
They Could Film the Walking Dead Here

They Could Film the Walking Dead Here


For instance, a playground that was put together by some local artists made out of recycled pieces of the rubble. A Re:Start mall constructed out of shipping containers where in merchants popped up their shops and designed a store front, a promenade, and it has become more popular than ever, mainly attracting the hip, the innovative, the artisians, and the tourists. There are many other merchants out under tents, like a farmers market. It was certainly the urban city fix I needed after spending 4 days in the bush of AU!
RestartMall

RestartMall


City Full of Art

City Full of Art


The next morning, we went to the center for Antarctica. It is an actual scientific site and hub called the gateway to Antarctica, and there is a tour and museum, and a ‘Disney-like’ experience that tourists can pay to do. We ended up being in there for 3 ½ hours completely entertained with a real -13 degree celcius winter storm, a ride on a Heggland (a Swiss tank used to travel around the ice mountains, cliffs, and can withstand ice breaks and go under water up to 3 meters) and feed blue penquins, and go through an interactive weather, history of exploration, and current scientific studies happening on the continent. It was Very informative, educational, and the kids had a blast (especially when the quirky ranger, Lindsay, took a shining to them and took them behind the scenes INSIDE the penquin exhibit!!!).
Braving a Polar Storm

Braving a Polar Storm


The Hegglund

The Hegglund


Our motel was quite a juxtaposition of 1960 meets modern day. The society in general is not a disposable one like our culture in the states. Besides being very environmentally friendly, it is also very exoensive here, and so if a stove or fridge still works, it doesn’t get replaced. Things are well made, well preserved and taken care of, and not just replaced when the new style comes out. So with that being said, our ‘boutique’ motel was very vintage, but had a modern restaurant attached, and free wi-fi- and flat screen TVs. Very strange but strangely nice.

Posted by sandlb107 11:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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