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Cameron and Joss enjoying New Zealand's scenery
Here's what we've been up to so far on NZ's South Island...
As we wrote previously, we picked up a fresh rental car in Picton after we got off of the ferry. Other than the ski racks on top, the snow chains in the back, and the built-in seat warmers, it's pretty much identical to our last silver Subaru station wagon.
On August 2, our first day on South Island, we took a half-hour of drive down to Blenheim just to park for the night. The usual pattern is for Gail to park in the room with the boys, then send Russell out by himself in the car in search of groceries. Russell found that downtown Blenheim is wonderfully quaint, with cobblestone streets and wonderful little shops.
The room in Blenheim is probably the most basic we've stayed in so far, with curtains (not walls) closing off the rooms, and only a half-wall separating the parents from the children. (Gail was rather distressed when Russell pointed this out to Joss, "the Climber".)
Joss in Blenheim
August 3 was another heavy driving day, all the way across the island to Greymouth on the west coast (so named because it is the mouth of the Grey River). More car sickness and more Dramamine.
But quite fortuitously, one of our pullovers for carsickness happened to be right at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge, a little out-of-the-way tourist attraction. We were going to skip it but Joss really wanted to visit, and we're glad we did. This is the longest swingbridge in New Zealand, 110 metres long and 18 metres above the water (movie buffs can think of the suspension bridge in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom").
Cam and Joss crossing Fuller Gorge Swingbridge
Cameron, Joss, and Russell went zipping across to the other side. Gail, on the other hand, made local history. First of all, Gail is absolutely terrified of heights (at Chicago's Sears Tower, she refused to step out of the elevator). Second, the Buller Gorge swingbridge does not have a solid floor -- it is wire mesh, so you can see exactly how far down everything is. After three trips back to the office to make sure that no one has every died before (on the third trip, the ticket man swore he'd physically carry her across), Gail did the third bravest thing in her life and inched her way across step by step, looking down the entire way.
The workers applauded when she finally got to the other side. They've had people cross before and people refuse to cross before, but never a person who refused to cross and then did it anyway. They said Gail was the steadiest walker ever -- the bridge didn't sway or budge an inch the whole time. Oh yes, and they also said they've never had anyone burst into tears before upon reaching the other side. Because Gail refused to cross it again to come back, she and Joss took the "Comet Line" back instead -- think of being strapped into a ski-lift chair on a wire and then zipped back across.
Back in the room, the family was so proud of mom that Cameron made a certificate and Joss made a tissue holder.
We stayed two nights in Greymouth so that we could have a completely down day with no driving. This worked out well because Greymouth had a great playground and trampoline. We also took the short walk to the beach. NZ's west coast is very different from Rarotonga: rocks instead of sand, and terribly cold -- but spectacular waves.
August 5 was another long day of driving, south to Franz Josef Glacier. There is almost nothing to the town, but one of the world's fastest-moving glaciers is here -- and rare because it terminates into the forest, not into the ocean somewhere.
After dinner out and a good nights' sleep, we took August 6 and hiked two glacier trails -- the first was a 20-minute "Sentinel walk" to a vista point, and the second was a two-hour "Valley walk" to the glacier's terminus. It was, of course, absolutely spectacular, with blue-ice and natural ice caves and huge boulders suspended above your head. There were also numerous "Danger" signs, accompanied by huge cracking sounds. As the rain began to get heavier, we hiked our way back across the huge riverbed of rocks that has been left behind as the glacier has receded over the years.
Franz Josef glacier from the Sentinel walk vista point
The boys at the glacier's terminus
And after Gail's bravery at the swingbridge, it was time for Cameron and Joss to be brave as we attempted a night hike to see glowworms (think of invertebrate fireflies). After much bribing with cookies and candy, we attempted to tramp into the woods in pitch blackness and stay very quiet. After about five minutes of not-so-quiet terror, the boys followed Gail back out to the car so that Russell could keep up the vigil. Naturally, Gail, Cam, and Joss saw a colony of glowworms on the way back to the car, while Russell ended up seeing a lot of inky blackness.
August 7 was an overall dismal, cold, and rainy day -- the worst weather we've had so far. The original plan was to drive back to Greymouth, but by the time we got there everyone was pretty crabby and all snapping at each other. After much wishy-washiness back and forth, we decided that if we were going to spend the whole day cooped up inside, we might at least be going somewhere. So we took the extra four hours and drove all the way east to Christchurch, our final destination in NZ.
We did do two things back in Greymouth. First, we visited one of the glass blowers in nearby Hokitika. The boys were so fascinated watching the half-naked man sculpt glass penguins that we bought one (one of our rare souvenirs). We also stopped in downtown Greymouth to buy Joss a little stuffed hedgehog (he really misses his stuffed animals).
We're very glad we did the extra driving (and also glad that we didn't attempt the fjords in this weather). The drive through Arthur's pass was absolutely beautiful, with clear roads and snowy mountains all around us. We saw a real live kiwi run across the road in front of our car. And the Top Ten Holiday Park in Christchurch is the best we've seen, with an adventure playground, a trampoline right outside our door, and an upstairs two-room unit that looks better than some apartments in the US.
We've done our last heavy driving in NZ, and we'll be in Christchurch for our last five nights. In two days we'll take our last excursion -- a round-trip train ride back across Arthur's Pass to Greymouth -- and we can hardly wait.
Gail and Russell keeping warm at Greymouth
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