30 April, 2013

Tower of London (29 Apr)

We are living outside of London central in a town called Chigwell - tube stop is Grange Hilll. It's about a 15 minute walk from our flat to the tube. And it seems to be about an hour ride on the tube, no matter where we want to go. Although it took us about an hour walking from the train to find the flat the first night!

On our walk we go past a small grocery, a synagogue, a few row houses with front gardens and through a lovely green park-like area. I really like seeing all the little daisies growing in the park; they are the ones with the long, white petals that have purple underneath - perfect for making daisy chains.

Our first foray into London was to the London Tower. It is much more massive in person! I tend to forget that it is more than just one tower, at times it was a little village within those walls.

The kids really got into it all - we picked up the "trail" or activity book and they each got a badge, or pin. The girls' read "Practicing Princess" and Chayton's read "Apprentice Knight."

Our Yeoman (or Beefeater's) Tour was quite fun - and funny. He gave us insight with a bit of humor into the history of the Tower. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror to show his strength. After that, a few more buildings were added. One is the Chapel of St. Peter:

"Three queens of England; Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey, and the remains of two saints of the Roman Catholic Church, Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, are buried in the Chapel's environs."

The Queens were executed at the Tower and then buried there. It was an interesting feeling to imagine sitting/standing where all those historic people had been. 

We walked up (and down) the White Tower where we saw their first bathroom (ahem, five story high port-a-potty - the kids liked that one) history on the Royal Mint and Royal Observatory; then Chayton had a blast looking at the dragon and the "Fit for a King" exhibit of swords and armor. Of course we checked out where the Royal Beasts were kept before being moved into the London Zoo in 1832. Did you know there were lions, monkeys, tigers, elephants, and a polar bear? 

Not to be missed were the Crown Jewels and seeing the famous ravens. Did you know there are six Yeomen Guards charged with the keeping of the ravens - but there are only eight ravens to keep track of. Ever since Charles II there has been a superstition that if the ravens leave the tower will fall; so they make sure that the ravens are quite happy! 

We also got to see our first bearskin hat soldier. That tickled Chayton! He still doesn't understand how they are able to not smile at all. He kept coming up with all sorts of different scenarios to question me with, "But what if ..." And can he keep the questions coming!

Queenstown, Oamaru, Christchurch and Jet Lag (18 Apr-27/28 Apr)

How could it get any better? Well, it did. Queenstown was simply amazing. First off, a BIG THANK YOU to our friend Andrew Patterson - he arranged a beautiful house and a car for us to use while we were in Queenstown. A gift we will always be thankful for.

We could have stayed in the house all week, as the view from the back windows and the backyard was breathtaking. The Remarkables were our constant companion pretty much everywhere we looked - and it only got better when one day heavy clouds covered our view, to avail freshly snow covered mountain tops the next day. It was literally so beautiful, sometimes it did not seem real. Our house reminded me of something you would see in England - an A-Frame, two-story house with the black beams showing all over and the sloped ceilings on the second level. It was quite charming and so warm!

Autumn was quickly taking hold, so the colors around us were an array of golden browns, yellows and reds. Even though we could have stayed house bound for days, we did opt to venture out almost each day. However, we did take a full day to just hang out, as after being in the RV for 3 1/2 weeks it was great to have a little space to just relax (we would do the 3 1/2 weeks all over again!).

Our first trip was the Luge. We had a great time taking the gondola up to the luge. The kids couldn't get enough of the luge. The first day we went, it was for all of us to play. The second day - it was a consolation price for Chayton and Kaija. They were upset from not being able to do the bungy. But we did make a promise to come back in 4-5 years so they could jump, too! I think Nazeriah will be quite happy to stay being our cheerleader (heights are not really her thing).

The Bungy jump was one of the most exhilarating things we have ever done, only topped by the amazing scenery of Kewara Gorge. The kids were positioned on the side (again, 2 somewhat disappointed, but cheering us on none the less - and 1 wishing we would just get it over and get out of here). I went first and Courtney second as he plunged into the ice cold water - which he actually requested! It was something we have both wanted to do for a long time and it was great to actually do it where it all began - we will do this again, hopefully in the same spot in a few years when the kids are old enough.

We then took a breathtaking (on a few levels) drive to Glenarchy. The lake is where they shot the Lord of the Rings scene of the entry into the mountain in The Fellowship of the Ring. A very beatuiful and peaceful place. We really have been blessed our entire time in NZ with very little crowds and traffic - which allowed us to really enjoy so many places.

We then spent the rest of our time exploring the general area, catching up on some rest and enjoying the amazing scenery.

After a restful week it was time to head up to Christchuch via Oamaru (sadly our last leg in NZ). We stayed at the cutest hostel - The Red Kettle - where we met Ging the cat, owner of Sandy. Also found out that Steam Punk is big in the town, who'd have thought. We tried to see the Yellow Eyed Penguins (caught sight of one, heard a lot more in their nests under the bushes). We didn't get to make it to the Blue Penguin colony - would have had to get up waaaay to early, and that clearly is not our thing these days...

But we were able to celebrate our first ANZAC Day. It was very emotional to see the town turn out for this celebration. Instead of standing along the sides watching the parade; everyone followed the parade once it passed them and continues until reaching the Garden of Memories for a ceremony. It was nice to take part and learn a bit of their history - interesting to note that this is a holiday celebrated by both NZ and Australia.

Then it was onto Christchurch. It was amazing to see the impact from the 2010/2011 earthquakes. But it was also heartening to see what has been completed since then. We literally left our hotel and wandered into town, meeting dead end's, blocked off streets and half demolished buildings. However, we always found helpful people and really enjoyed the Muesuem, Botanical garden and a really tasty treat - Lemmington (thanks for the headup Andrew - we might have enjoyed a few to many on our last day!).

Sadly, after our time in ChristChurch it was time to leave. We literally flew half way around the world - Christchurch to Auckland to LA to London. We spent around 20 hours on airplanes and about 10 hours in the airports. Fun times. What was fun was being able to see Andrew one last time during our stopover at the Auckland airport. He was such an amazing ambassodor and really helped us map out our journey. Quick side story - Courtney and Andrew had not seen each other in 20 years, but late last year they reconnected - really by chance, we saw him in NJ for a week in early January, where we planned our trip and then saw him again in March - the Universe is an amazing thing!

By now the jet lag is hitting us all. The last two nights we have fallen asleep by 6:30pm and woken up at 4:00am. I hope by tomorrow we'll get back on a normal sleep cycle.

24 April, 2013

Lake Tekapo (18 Apr)

Have you ever had a spine tingling, soul warming feeling that you've been somewhere before? Not a small sense of déjà vu, but a strong sense of place?

I did while we were driving up to the Lake Tekapo area. It was something I felt just looking at the mountains - the certain way they sloped, the color, the sense of the place.

I had seen it before. In a dream.

Not too long ago a small group of close friends and I drove from West Orange to outside the Princeton area. We were all taking a chance at a group past life regression session. Something I've been interested in, but not able to do on my own. And somehow seemed silly to talk too most people about. But this group of friends - we talked about things like this in our Spiritual Book Group. And I felt safe with them.

And what happened, I can't fully explain. But I do know this ...

Not quite asleep, but not really awake I saw in my minds eye large, rounded, brown mountains framed against the darkening night sky.

Below them on the plateau close to a lake there is a big bonfire burning. The stars start popping out into the midnight blue sky - magnificently bright against the darkness. I am there by the fire, dancing. My shadow is reflected up the mountainside.

Suddenly, I leap up and am caught in mid flight by a large black hawk. We fly up into the starry sky. Slowly my arms have taken the shape of the hawks wings, my (actual) fingers feel the feathers and the wind rushing between my wingtips. Now I am the one flying up in the darkness with the stars.

Even after all this time, my fingers still can feel the feathers. Was this a deep meditation? Diving down into past life experiences? A vision? A dream?

Whatever you call it, it has stayed with me. And I felt it again in the earth.

16 April, 2013

Fox Glacier (14 Apr-15 Apr)

After leaving Lake Mahinapua we drove down past Franz Joseph Glacier onto Fox Glacier.

That night Chayton made some friends and played outside for a few hours before it was dark/dinner time. Again it was a combination of "Narnia/Power Rangers/Knights." But what was even better than last time (besides the four new friends he made) was that there were woods and a stream that they could go hiding/tramping in. The only reason he came into dinner so easily was because his friends had to go in to eat, too. He kept one eye out the window, tho, making sure that if he saw his friends he could bust out of the campervan.

The next morning (after Chayton said good-bye to his friends as they were leaving - he and Courtney had to go find them so he could say bye; he was very determined to see them again), we headed over to Fox Glacier - about 15 minutes from our camp spot.

We parked in the carpark (bathroom break - we do many of these) and after about 30 minutes we could view the terminal (bottom area) of the glacier. It was amazing!

Fox Glacier is the longest of New Zealand's West Coast glaciers (at 13kms) and it is over 3,000 meters or 10,000 feet high. And what is really cool - is that it is in a rainforest. How weird is that? A mammoth ice berg in a rainforest?

Goldsborough to Christchurch (15 Apr-16 Apr)

What we thought was going to be just a nice place in the woods to stay for the night ended into a hunt for gold and fairies.

After a quick stop in Hokitika to get gas, wash the windows, and get a picture with The Wiggles' car, we were off to Goldsborough - a camp site located on the site of an old gold mining town.

The creek ran behind the area of the campsite at Goldsborough with three different trails that you could walk on.

The first night we followed one over the bridge and into woods from Narnia or Brave. I kept looking to see if the "wisps" would come out to show us the way. It was so green and moist. Unfortunately the photos that we took didn't do it any justice.

The next morning we started out following the stream bed. Two fellow campers passed us on our walk - complete with fossicking (gold panning) equipment. They were heading a little upstream to try their luck. We didn't find any gold so kept going on our walk.

What we did find was a natural source of the most amazing grey-colored clay. If only I could have stayed there for a day (or two or three). It was a mountain that looked at first to be covered by smooth cement - but once you came up to it, it was a mountainside of clay. It was an unreal sight. There were also deposits all along the creek and in the creek bed.

Mix it with water and it was the perfect consistency to shape and sculpt. Mix it with a little more water and it was the perfect face paint; more water and it was the best facial mud mask that I have ever tried!

After splashing off the mud in the crystal clear (but freezing) water from the stream (vey refreshing!) we headed back to the campervan and set off on our drive to Christchurch.

We were officially three hours away from Christchurch - if you drove normally. We parked in our camp site at 6:00pm, only five and half hours after we left our Goldsborough campsite.

So what took so long? Besides the amazing scenery that we passed by, and we only stopped for a quick lunch; what happened was we found the Arthur's Pass National Park Center. We are suckers for National Park offices - and for the Junior Ranger or in this case Kiwi Ranger programs.

We spent a good two hours at the center as the kids completed their booklets. We learned even more about the Kiwi and the rescue programs in Arthur's Pass, about the Kea (really big parrot), more about what you need to do/bring when you go on a hike, and about Arthur's Pass itself. it was great! And all thee kids earned a Kiwi Ranger button.

After Arthur's Pass we hit some huge mountain roads (up and down and snaky curves); but soon came upon the most interesting and beautiful scenery at Castle Hill. The rock formations that were left there look like remains of castles, stone circles and the sculptures from Easter Island. It was a little too rainy for us to stop - but even driving by in the campervan was cool. I'd love to come back here and do some tramping around.

We did have one more stop to make before hitting Christchurch. Something that we had to turn around for: The World Famous Sheffield Pie Shop. And they were worth turning around for! We didn't even leave the parking lot to eat them. It was a most delicious and hot dinner! Plus, no dishes.

Then it was off to Christchurch - just a short visit. We turn in the campervan on Thursday morning and drive in a rental car down to Queenstown to spend the week. I can't believe that this part of our adventure is coming to an end.

Lake Mahinapua Reserve (13 Apr-14 Apr)

What a wonderful place to spend the night.

As soon as we had set-up the campervan we all headed out to investigate our surroundings. We found a beautiful lake and the kids found a wonderful field to play "Narnia/ Power Rangers" in. Admist cries of "For Narnia!" Courtney and I sat on a large rock overlooking the lake planning our next steps (heading to Fox Glacier).

The campground itself is fully on the honor system: you pay and park yourself. There are no numbers or lines or bushes designating each camping area. I wonder what it looks like on a busy summer night? The fee, you pick up a plastic envelope and tag, place your money in your envelope and drop it into the payment box.

The next morning we woke and went down to the lakeside. Chayton is so enthralled with his Star Wars book - it was the first thing he said when he woke up today "Can you read to me?" We took his book and went down to sit on the dock to read. I was able to sit/meditate at the end of the dock in the sunlight listening to Courtney read to Chayton behind me. At one point, Chayton came up and sat with me - back to back.

It was so magical and relaxing.

Priceless Item

Yesterday (13 Apr) we found a great little used book store (and other things) in Hokitika.

The kids made out - each walked away with three books. Chayton picked up two books he could read to us and one book for us to read to him: Star Wars Episode 1.

He is so stoked. Only bugged us to read to him a thousand time yesterday and today. He's working toward a goal - once he reads the book he can watch the movie. House rules.

At one point yesterday we parked the campervan to go take a short walk. As we were picking things up and putting them away I told Chayton to just leave his book out on the table (which is by a window).

He got a worried expression on his face and said "But Mama, someone could see in the window and see my book and break in to steal it." Of course I promptly hid the book.

The price of a treasure truly is in the value that the owner gives it. I'm glad that a book holds so much value to my little man.

12 April, 2013

Greymouth (12 Apr-13 Apr)

We made it to Greymouth in the allocated time that our GPS lady said it would take! That has to be a first.

In our quest to do a free site one night - paid site the next (to recharge the electricity, water and dump things - not to mention showers) we are staying at South Beach Motel and Motorpark.

What was a great surprise is that it is walking distance to the beach! So after a rousing game of soccer we were off to take a walk along the waterfront.

Middle of Nowhere - Louise Pass (11 Apr-12 Apr)

We spent the night in the wild New Zealand bush. More specifically pulled off the road in a little Department of Conservation (DOC) car park/trail head called St. James Walkway along Louise Pass.

It was literally in the middle of nowhere. Dark, cold and windy. Did I mention that it was windy? The campervan shook like it would topple over a couple of times. But for a budget conscious place for the night (read: FREE) it was great.

I might be exaggerating a little with the wind - I felt completely safe and comfortable. Even tho it really was windy.

We were in the pass between two big mountains. When we woke up, it just looked like we were wrapped in white clouds. Then the wind blew them out - and there were mountains covered with green trees and small wispy clouds sliding down them. It was pretty amazing.

After breakfast and hot tea (we've given up on the powdered instant coffee that you stir in with your boiling water - yuk - a while other blog rant for another time), we were off for a quick three hour drive to Greymouth.

10 April, 2013

Kaikoura (8 April-10 April, 2013)

Time for whales, dusky dolphins and seals!

We arrived in the Kaikoura region on Monday late afternoon - after starting around 10:00am. If anyone can turn a two-hour drive into a whole day affair, it's us.

State Highway one took us all the way from Picton to Kaikoura, with the last part we drove right along the coast. And guess what we saw - seals! Hundreds and hundreds of them. At one time we walked along an out cropping of rocks and were about ten feet away from the seals (the seals were below us and couldn't jump up to the rocks where we were). We also learned that the seals come out of the water/off the rocks at nighttime to sleep - there was one already cuddled in the long grass at one of the sites we stopped at. It's still so weird to us that through all the miles and miles of coastline that we drove along - not a single house, condo development, mall, hotel, nothing. It's all left as natural land. Now some of it would have a pasture here or there, but not much.

I think we learned one reason why when we went to The Point Sheep Shearing Show to see the sheep shearing. Our host and Peter explained that each sheep would only get $18 a year for their wool - and he had the Drysdale Sheep that have really long hair (long and straight, not short and curly - that is a different breed). You could understand why so many sheep stations have gone out of business.

We got to met Peter's dog, Jed, a big male sheep - Ram Man, blackie (did you know you usually only get one black sheep out of a thousand births?), and the sheep that he sheared - in 4.5 minutes. Which was slow, he said so that we could really see it.

We got to pet the sheep after it was sheared to feel the lanolin oil, touch all the equipment (those shears are HEAVY), feel the rams horns, see how the farmer packs the wool into bales, learn a whole host of facts and we we all got a sample of the sheep wool. It was really soft. Plus his sheep weren't dirty, so it was clean without any washing.

Our host was a good performer without being over-the-top or cheesy. His wife's family used to own the whole peninsula of land and have between 3-5,000 sheep. Now they only have 300 sheep and a small portion of the land - just enough to do the two shows a day.

The tip of the peninsula is now a department of conservation reserve to protect the seal colony that lives there. We tried to go see it - but it was a bit too windy and rainy. At some points it almost blew Chayton over. Which is why we ended up at the sheep station. We were supposed to go out on the boat to see the whales, but with the weather so bad we rebooked for Wednesday.

First stop looking for seals

the first night campgrounds's trampoline (and mountains in the distance)

the rest of our view

rainy weather on the point

Chayton feeding Ram Man

before and after
The second night we found a freedom camping spot - and it was across the street from a hair place. In the morning Courtney and Chayton walked over for haircuts. (Courtney went three months without a haircut. He normally gets one every five weeks. He was trying to grow it out for me.)

After that it was off to the point again to see seals while we waited for the Aquarium to open. It was much nicer today than yesterday and we tramped around a bit. After a quick lunch it was off to the aquarium.

The touch tank was fun - we all touched sea stars, sea aneome, sea cucumber, fish, snails and other stuff - and got to see a dancing octopus. When we were in the room he kept moving back in forth across his tank and it looked like dancing.

After that it was finally time to go whale watching!

Can I just say, we are not a sea faring family? Even with motion sickness pills and sea bands two were down, one wasn't feeling good but took care of the limp little man, another one wasn't feeling well but sucked it up to walk out on the deck with the only one that was fine. In our defense the swell was up to two meters today. Not many on the boat didn't turn green.

Needless to say Kaija had a great time and was so excited about swing the sperm whale, dusky dolphins and the albatrosses.

I was also able to see things from inside the cabin - I saw the sperm whale dive down and about ten jumping dolphins. It was so cool! But I was certainly glad to get off the boat.

One more night in Kaikoura and we're off to the West Coast.

campervan and view

sunny day at the point

sleeping seal