We were privileged to welcome Paul’s parents, Jack and Janette, for a twelve day visit. After much discussion and lots of planning we sketched out an itinerary to show them some of our favorite places during their brief time here. It was rather overwhelming for us to have the opportunity to visit these places again but what we found even more overwhelming were the dramatic differences we saw upon returning to many of them. During many of our excursions we discovered that it really was like seeing them for the first time. It was an amazing example of the dynamic qualities of Nature and Life. Not only did we welcome new faces into our adventure we were introduced to some new faces of familiar places.
We checked into the Hilton in Queenstown late Wednesday evening. This was Paul’s first day of vacation. That in itself was reason to celebrate by splurging on a one night stay at the Hilton. We were also anticipating the arrival of his folks the next day. As we checked in, the lady at the desk informed us we had been chosen as “guests of the day.” We would quickly learn this would be quite an enjoyable gift. We walked into our room to drop off our bags before walking to the nearby Pub for a bite to eat. In the room we found bottle of wine with a box of chocolates and a card just for us. Here in Queenstown you could feel winter in the air and in the moonlight we could see the faint luminescence of bright snow on the surrounding peaks promising a spectacular sight once embraced in daylight.
When we returned to the room, we marveled at how luxurious it seemed especially after what we’d been staying in for the last few months. It was like rags to riches and we were going to relish every moment, grateful to have the opportunity. It did not come as a surprise to either of us that Paul was up early working on the second day of his two week vacation. He took a break for us to go experience the lavish breakfast buffet (another perk that came with being guests of the day). Every staff member seemed to have gotten the memo and they all gushed over us, it really seemed over the top but they succeeded in making us feel special. Breakfast was amazing, it was difficult not to flat out gorge ourselves on all the choices, but somehow we both managed to leave before getting totally stuffed. The treat of the early morning sun illuminating jagged snowcapped peaks against a brilliant sky on a crisp winter morning was even better than the food.
We paused a moment to let the scenery sink in before going back to the room. Paul tackled the issue at work while I tackled the pile of our belongings in an effort to pack it all snug enough to allow room for his folks luggage in the car without compromising our seating too much. The events worked out perfectly as I finished packing just at Paul wrapped up his work just in time for us to drive over to the airport. A few short minutes later we were embracing his parents, who were weary from traveling. All of us were so grateful that they’d been able to come visit, regardless of what we’d be able to see and do.
Then, when we approached baggage claim, Paul and I dropped our jaws open when we saw the size of bags we were going to have to try and squeeze into Zed. Oh, boy! Sure glad we had already stored one of our suitcases in Nelson. Miraculously we were able to get everything, including ourselves to fit. With a two hour drive from Queenstown to TeAnau ahead, we thought his folks would appreciate a little time to get out and walk around after the long flight. Paul drove us to Lake Hayes where we stopped for a leg stretch and short walk.
It turned into a five mile trek around the entire lake. It was a brilliant day for taking in the scenery. Clear skies and ultra-calm waters were ideal conditions to offer crisp reflections of the surrounding mountains highlighted with snow.
Then we made our way to the west for a two night stay in TeAnau. Our plan was to get to Milford Sound for a cruise the next day. To our delight and gratitude the forecast for clear skies actually came to pass. For a place that measures annual rainfall in meters, a sunny forecast is rare. It was an utter privilege to witness Milford Sound and the famous Mitre Peak illuminated in bright sunshine showing an undisturbed reflection in the tidal plain along the walkway to the boat terminal.
The boat was very pleasantly uncrowded and though chilly out on the deck it was certainly not unbearable as the winds were relatively calm.
We had a wonderful couple of hours out on the water and even got to see a pod of dolphins swim by.
We had the opportunity to stop and share with Paul’s folks a few of our favorite spots along the drive on the way up and then a few more on the way down. Mirror lakes was the most pristine we’d ever seen, showing off some beautiful reflections.
The waters flowing through the chasm were much lower than when we’d been there in February so the sound wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but with less water more of the intricately carved chasm was visible.
There never seems to be a dull moment in getting to observe the ever changing world of nature.
In order to fit in the two main places we wanted to show Paul’s parents we had to arrange and prepare for a couple of long driving days. The first of these came on the day following our visit to Milford. We did take the time to enjoy breakfast at the Sandfly Café before departing TeAnau for Fox Glacier. The computer navigation map gave us an estimate of just over seven hours. It turned out to be much longer once we added in several stops to stretch our legs, and a lunch break at a chocolate shop/Café in Wanaka where Janette and I had some freshly juiced health drinks while the boys savored their ice cream. After lunch there were more stops, two of them unexpected, for Janette to expel her health drink alongside the curvy road leading up to Haast Pass.
Once we passed over the summit we made a very brief stop at Fantail Falls. When we visited in February the riverbed was covered with hundreds of cairns and we were curious what it looked like now. Wow, we walked up to a frost covered rocky riverbed with only a handful of little cairns standing, mostly on a log near the bank. It was an entirely different scene and it made us wish we could have seen time lapse photos since our last visit.
Back in the car we wound our way over to the west coast. Surprisingly, we arrived at a spectacular look out (Knights lookout) on the just as the sun was slipping into the ocean lined horizon.
That offered a refreshing break before again climbing in the car for the remaining hour or so to our accommodation in Fox Glacier. This little tourist town had not shut down completely for the winter season so we were glad to see that we did have at least a few choices for dinner. We confidently walked up to restaurant that was most appealing and also recommended by our host thinking we’d be able to get right in during the off season. Well, that’s not exactly how it happened because as we later realized it was a long holiday weekend for the Queen’s Birthday. The place was packed and we were faced with a choice to wait almost an hour or opt for another choice in establishments. We were all exhausted after being on the road for nine hours. That’s how we ended up eating at the Bigfoot Bar where at least we got a table next to a heater. Torn between wanting to sleep late into the day and wanting to show Jack and Janette as much as we could we discussed plans for the next day. High on the list was a visit to Lake Matheson. Paul and I had visited when we were in this area before but on both walks around the lake we had mostly cloudy weather. Lake Matheson is famous for picturesque reflections of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman and the weather was forecast to be clear the next day. Based on this forecast we decided to get another early start and have breakfast at the nearby café before walking around the lake.
It turned out to be magical. The day began frosty with low fog and a few clouds but as we ate we watched the clouds begin to lift. Then we were privileged to see some astounding reflections in the lake as we made our way around the track.
Before departing Fox Glacier we snapped some photos from a viewpoint where we could see the Fox glacier nestled in the valley below the mountains.
Inching our way to Hokitika with too much on the “to do” list, we only made it a smidge further north before stopping at the Franz Josef Glacier walk. The sun still shining brilliantly we took the walk up the river bed to view the glacier. It was just as spectacular as when Paul and I had visited before but what was even more amazing was to see how very different the landscape was. The track had been completely rerouted due to the most recent floods.
After completing this walk we were on the road again bound for Hokitika where we’d be staying just one night to break up the long drive to the northern coast of the South Island. We arrived at the motel in time to step out on the beach for sunset.
Dinner was a unique experience at a historical hotel tucked a ways inland up the Kaniere river valley. On our other visits to this lovely little west coast community Paul and I had been told of the “glow worm dell” and how we should stop in and see it but we’d never taken the time. This little gem was just a short distance from where we were staying so Paul pulled over on our way back from dinner. It took us just a few minutes to make our way up the track by the light of our phones to a spot that, after extinguishing the lights came alive with glittering, twinkling bits of light. It was like being transported into space and floating, surrounded by stars when really we were just standing staring at a rock and dirt wall in the dark. This was one of those moments that you simply cannot capture in a photograph. We were so glad we’d finally stopped to check it out.
The next day we had a lot of road to travel. Before departing we made a quick stop at the mouth of the Hokitika River. Wow, this was another example of the ever-changing dynamic personality of nature. The carpark and stone wall where Paul and I had spent quite a bit of time on our last visit was partially washed away. Even as we stood, the waves were crashing up over the wall and flowing out through the large holes in the asphalt.
Our destination for the evening was Kaiteriteri. The route we traveled took us up the West Coast before turning inland and through the Buller gorge and then north into Motueka and over the little hill to a house sitting just up the hill from little Kaiteriteri beach. Along the way we made stops at both Punakaki to see the pancake rocks and Truman Beach.
From there it was another grueling ride for several hours over curvy roads. Arriving after dark, we had to wait until morning to see the beach from the house. Once we were unpacked and settled, Paul and I found ourselves re-evaluating plans for the upcoming days. If we carried on with the original plans it meant another early morning and lots of driving. We’d scheduled a tour of the Farewell Spit, the second on our list of what we absolutely wanted his folks to see. Again we consulted the forecast to help in making a decision. This time it looked as if the weather was going to turn cloudy and wet after one more day of sunshine. We chose to carry on with our plans. Everyone was up and we were on the road by nine the following morning for our drive over Takaka Hill to Golden Bay. Zed had a beautiful coat of frost that morning, but we were glad it hadn’t settled on the roads enough to make them slick. We made a brief stop at PuPu springs before checking in with the tour company in Collingwood.
From there we drove out to Wharariki beach. What a picture perfect day it was. Walking through the sheep paddock to the beach was like walking in a painting. The hills were such a vivid green dotted with sheep contentedly grazing the lush grass under a bright blue sky.
We had plenty of time to enjoy the beach and watch the thundering waves. Jack removed his shoes and zipped off his pant legs and waded into the cold water. I thought he was crazy. Janette followed suit, but Paul and I chose to stay dry.
There was time for a short visit to Cape Farewell.
Just down the road from this beach was where we met the tour bus to take us out on the spit. It arrived right on schedule and after having dry peanut butter sandwiches for lunch we set out for the afternoon to explore the Farewell spit. Just before we turned to make our way down the sand toward the lighthouse, Murray, our driver pointed out the tractor and trailer turning off of the spit. He explained that they were hauling away the last of the scaffolding that had been used to restore the lighthouse. We carried on with the tour, seeing all the different birds and watching the dunes along the sand that seemed to stretch to forever while Murray told us all about what we were seeing. He commented multiple times about the “wind that usually blows” as what we were experiencing was an unusual weather pattern.
As we got closer to the lighthouse, the sun was sliding lower and lower toward the horizon. We got off the bus and walked up the trail to behold the magnificent structure gleaming in the glow of the evening light. That is where it struck me, just how special this moment was. We were the very first people to lay eyes on the newly restored lighthouse. You could clearly see how moved Murray was as he explained how it had looked for the last several months, hidden behindthe skeleton of metal scaffolding and how dramatic it was seeing it unwrapped for the first time. For Paul and I it was remarkable to see the lighthouse so brilliant with a fresh coat of paint, recalling how weathered and worn it looked on our first visit with rusty bolts showing through the peeling paint. The experience was such a gift and one we could never have planned or expected. Then we got to watch the sunset as we enjoyed some tea and snacks with Murray before turning back on to the spit for the return trip.
Murray stopped twice, once to let us see the beam of light from the lighthouse pass over us and once further out where he parked the bus directly in the path of the beam of light. He then guided the bus back to the road under the glow of the moonlight.
On our way out of Golden Bay we stopped at the Mussel Inn for dinner. We were thrilled to see that they were open as during our previous trips along this route, the quirky cozy joint was closed. This is where Janette, a self-proclaimed “wine drinker, not beer drinker” discovered Captain Cooker. A local brew made on site at the Mussel Inn. The recipe included Manuka, a native plant that is rather famous here in New Zealand for healing properties.
We had no definitive plans for the following day but after we got up we decided to book a boat tour of the Abel Tasman National Park. Knowing that we would all enjoy being on the water even if it was cloudy, we figured if we got a spot of sunshine to light the splendid views in the Park it would be a bonus.
We boarded the boat with one other young man so we basically had it to ourselves. We had prepared for a chilly ride, and it was, but it wasn’t wet. The clouds hung low for the first hour or so and then dissipated giving us some wonderful views of the coast.
The tour included a walk along the famous Abel Tasman track so after touring the entire coast of the National Park our captain dropped us off at Apple Tree Bay and we walked through the bush for a few miles to reconnect with the boat at Anchorage Bay. While Jack anchored at Anchorage Bay, Paul, Janette and I increased our pace and walked the additional loop track to see another pristine white sand beach and lighthouse before getting back to Anchorage Bay just as the boat arrived to pick us up and take us back to Kaiteriteri beach.
From there we departed in the rain the next day bound for Blenheim where we would be staying for the next two nights. The little apartment in Blenheim was a welcome sight after the rather disappointing conditions we’d found in Kaiteriteri. It was a charming and clean little place with a quiet peaceful garden surrounding it.
We spent the next day showing Paul’s folks around the Blenheim area, including a walk along the Taylor River while the sun was still out and then a peek at Rarangi beach in the rain and lunch at Café Cortado in Picton. The day wasn’t complete until we stopped at the Makana Chocolate Factory.
Kaikoura was another place we really wanted to show them, so the next day we were back in the car for the hour and a half drive down the east coast. The trip took much longer than that but the timing worked out incredibly well because of unexpected delays. Paul’s work duties beckoned once more on this vacation, but fortunately he got the issues resolved rather quickly and we were soon on our way. The first stop was at Yealands vineyard where we’d initially intended to simply drive through and carry on. As it turned out we arrived just as they opened so Janette was delighted we had the opportunity for a wine tasting in addition to a gorgeous day to take in the vast panoramic views of this massive vineyard.
By enjoying a longer stay at the vineyard and winery we arrived at The Store, a favorite little lunch place, just in time for lunch before making a brief stop to show Jack and Janette the cute little seal pups at the Ohau Stream.
Our dinner reservations at the Green Dolphin were at five which gave us plenty of time to do the Peninsula walk once we arrived in Kaikoura. Jack, Janette and I set out on the track while Paul drove the car around to the other side and then walked the opposite way on the track to meet us.
That way we only had to walk one way. It turned out to be quite a lovely day for the walk. Enjoying fresh seafood for dinner was the perfect way to wrap up the day. Paul drove us back to Blenheim in the dark. Already we were nearing the end of their visit. It went by so quickly. The remaining days would be spent in Nelson. We took the scenic route from Blenheim to Nelson through Picton and along the Queen Charlotte drive.
Despite the cloud cover, we were able to get a few glimpses of the Marlborough Sounds. When we stopped for a look at the Picton marina, the timing was such that we got to see two of the giant ferries at the dock. It was fascinating to watch the crew and all the processes involved in loading, unloading and maneuvering the boats. We stood and watched until the cold urged us back in the car. We did take a few minutes to stretch our legs at Cullen Point before picnicking in Havelock for lunch followed by a lovely coffee at the beautiful marina. Paul and I were excited to introduce his parents to our hosts and to the view in Nelson as we’d stayed there once before.
They now had 2 apartments available for rent so we were all able to stay and the place provided the perfect setting to conclude their visit. Both apartments had sweeping birds eye views of the Tasman Bay, Tahunanui beach and the Boulder Bank.
Paul’s Dad urged us to look into finding a way to get out on the water for one more day, so over pizza and beer be researched our options. We found a local company which offered a short cruise on a catamaran, their minimum was four. We were told to look for Martin at the pier just before ten the following morning. Again, we got the boat to ourselves. It was another frosty morning and the skies were clear. Layered with all the warm gear we had, at least I was, we joined Martin on his catamaran named Jamarh. As we embarked on the tour the sun began warming us and because there was no wind, it really was quite a pleasant ride. As we gently cruised around the port and in through the marina, Martin filled us in on some history of the area.
He took us a short distance up a channel into the lagoon formed by the Boulder Bank and explained this natural rock wall. We simply sat for a spell wrapped in the serenity of the reflective water while we enjoyed a cup of tea.
Then we were able to move closer to the lighthouse, drop anchor and climb into the dinghy. He rowed us over to have a closer look at the Boulder Bank and climb the historic lighthouse. It was fascinating to see the Boulder Bank from this angle and see how uneven the sides were because it looks perfectly even as you view it from the road driving through Nelson which was the only vantage point we’d seen it from until that day. Before the cruise ended, Martin hung out a hammock where we took turns relaxing. We all thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to be out on the water again. It was certainly a lovely winter’s day.
With that, our tour with what we expect to be our last visitors of this adventure and Paul’s vacation drew to a close. On the last day there was plenty of time for packing and one last lunch together after a walk to the Center of New Zealand.
We drove Paul’s parents to the airport to find out they could get on an earlier flight, leaving right away. We said our tearful goodbyes. Paul and I walked out and around to the end of the runway waving as their plane took off. We watched until we could no longer make out the tiny black speck in the sky. It was a difficult farewell and it left both of us a bit homesick.