Friday, March 31, 2017

NZ/Aus Days 13 & 14: Rotorua

The Maori Museum was damaged in the 2016 earthquake, and is still closed to the public, so we've been left to our own devices (literally) to learn about the history of the area. We wandered the beautiful lakeftont and square around the gorgeous Anglican church and Maori meeting house and admired the carvings and architecture. We opted to avoid the Maori Living Village as it seemed a bit exploitative from the signage and instead planned our day trip to the multicoloured geothermal pools.

When things aren't going well,
a sense of humour can help...
We realized at the last minute that if we wanted to see the geyser go off (one of the park's main attractions), we'd better get a move on since 10:15 is the only chance you get. We raced along the narrow road leading from the highway to the visitor centre where we were greeted by a well-oiled "get-to-the-geyser-on-time" machine. Employees directed us to a waiting zone where we could park and buy tickets, then were ushured to the turn-off for it where more parking guides waited to reassure us that we had time. It turned out that 10:15 was the start of the geyser pre-show where we learned of its history before the geyser was manually set off using a soap-like mixture.

Our ever-contented baby stayed true to her nature and got upset by the one thing she seems to hate: people. And even worse than that, people speaking into mircophones. Amidst her cries, the geyser went off, then we let the crowd clear so we'd have less company to make our way through the rest of the attractions.

Hmm... those fumes can't be good for the baby. #terribleparenting

A well-marked path led us on a multi-coloured journey through "one of the 20 most sureal places on earth" to see Mother Nature's well-developed palette. The highlights were arguably the Champagne Pool and Devil's Bath, which looked more like something off a late 90's Nickelodeon game show.

All-in-all, our long drive to Rotorua seemed well worth it and we continued on the next day smellier, but more relaxed than when we arrived, thanks to three dips in the motel's hot springs.

A matching family is a happy family ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

NZ/Aus Day 12: Are We There Yet?

With our longest driving day yet ahead of us, we hit the road as soon as we could in the morning. Our main reason for coming to New Zealand was to see the landscapes, so although anxious to get to our destinations, we were enjoying the drives all the same.

Today would take us from the pastures and vineyards of Martinborough through some very moody hills (thanks to the rainy skies above) to our lunch destination of Napier.

Napier is unique for its art-deco style, having been rebuilt after an earthquake in the 20's. The rain lifted enough for us to enjoy walking along the waterfront and through a quaint pedestrain street before stopping to get lunch. A highlight for Erin was finding an allergen-free bakery, Hapi, where she stocked up on desserts for the days ahead.

Feeling slightly guilty about putting Baby back in the car seat, we forged onwards through a mountainous stretch with way too many construction zones. We found a roadside pull-out to nurse at with views of the forest below, then continued on. It was a relief when we saw Lake Taupo as we knew we were getting close, but we were much later than expected, so we couldn't afford a stop there as well. With aching backs and a cranky companion, we entered Rotorua.

At one of our rest stops
Rotorua is an important Maori cultural centre. It's situated on a large lake and in the heart of a rich geothermal region. Everywhere we turned there seemed to be steam rising off a creekbed or spouting out from a storm drain. The sulphur smell overtook us making it much more difficult to tell if someone in the backseat was in need of a change.

We passed a lodge that seemed engulfed in thick smoke and enviously read the sign that it housed its own hot springs pools, then let out exasperated sighs as Google seemed to lose our destination. After going around in circles and down some questionable side streets, we finally realized that that lodge WAS our destination (and also the cheapest option in town, thank you Craig)!

Though rundown in appearance, the sulphur pool alongside the river made up for what the room lacked. We quickly unpacked and made a surprisingly good meal using what the miniscule "kitchenette" provided.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

NZ/Aus Day 11: Martinborough

It was a pleasure to wake up the next morning in the 'bach' (cabins varying from high-end villas to bring your own linen wooden shacks) Craig had found. This one, with its sophisticated style and finishing touches, felt like the splurge that it was. The outdoor seating area overlooking the property's olive grove was a great way to relax, and our two night stay easily felt like more because of the setting. We lazed about in the morning, then sunscreened-up for our lengthy afternoon walk.

We chose Martinborough as the wine region we would visit because of its small town centre and easy walking distance to wineries. It was surprising to discover that the area lacked a pedestrian-friendly approach to wine tasting. Thankfully, traffic was light as we pushed Baby along the side of the road in the stroller. We wisely chose a path that would loop us back to our accomdation with several winery stops bringing us closer to home. This was especially important when we learned there was no taxi service in town.

The first two tastings were uneventful. The standard of the region seemed to be $5 each to taste. Their sauv blancs, what New Zealand is most famous for, were well-balanced with a frutier finish than found elesewhere that we'd tasted. It was the third vineyard that really did things right. They boasted a lovely cafe overlooking their vines with a build-your-own flight of five half glasses. We skipped their tasting and did this instead, enjoying a leisurely lunch while (you guessed it!), Baby slept dutifully in her stroller. What an angel!

Our last stop at the Martinborough Vineyeard was impressive for two reasons: one, they offered nine different varietals to taste including an incredibly buttery chardonnay, the smoothest $75 pinot noir, and a late harvest riesling that could rival ours at home. Secondly, the sommelier - do we say sommeliere? - was cheerful, engaging, and incredibly knowledgeable. She giggled her way through our tasting while giving us great information about Wairarapa region.

We headed home to enjoy a bbq'ed lamb dinner that could rival any top chef in the area and a sunset that provided the perfect finish to our stay.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

NZ/Aus Day 10: We're on a Boat!

Just before the meltdown...

We were up before the sun on Day 10 to get all packed up for our travel day ahead. By 9 am we were aboard the Interislander ferry and on our way to the North Island. We snagged seats on the sundeck and watched the views unfold as we exited Marlborough Sound.

Baby's was unimpressed at first. She took one look at the water and cried then proceeded to pull her blanket up over her head and ignore the situation. She ended up sleeping peacefully in her stroller for about an hour before she needed to be fed. We took advantage of the ship's nursing room before we hit open water and the waves picked up. Craig held down the ship, as it were, in regards to wildlife watching and appreciating the gorgeous scenery. It wasn't until Erin and Baby emerged from the cabin that an announcement shared that whales had been spotted in front of the boat. We joined the crowd to look but no one on deck seemed to see them. Erin did spot a group of dolphins feeding off the port side but they weren't close enough for a good look or picture.

When we entered the calmer waters around Wellington, more dolphins joined along side our boat, this time jumping out of the water and giving us a bit more of a show. We joined the queue to get ashore and were soon on our way to Martinborough.

The drive turned out to be more scenic than we expected, twisting and turning its way over a mountain pass. The hills were lush with wild forests, a welcome change from the monoculture tree farms we'd been seeing on the South. Another improvement was the road itself, this one wider, paved, and with frequent turnouts for slower moving vehicles. The hillside was so steep that if you looked back, the road was quickly enveloped and swallowed by trees, seeming like it was never there at all. Once we reached the valley floor, pastures and vineyards stretched out in front of us and we soon found our destination: a quaint French farmhouse overlooking a winery. Perfection! It was just the place to relax and serve as a launching point for the next day's adventures.

You really can have it all! 

Monday, March 27, 2017

NZ/Aus Day 9: Vin'ding Our Way Around the Region

Determined to make things easier for our second day in Picton, we set off on a driving tour of the area hoping for more outstanding views. We wound our way up and down the hillsides but unfortunately it was mostly the trees on the side of the road that were in sight. With little trouble we found our way to the bay Craig had marked as our turn around point. We settled out on a quiet dock to snack and relax in the sun.

Since the views were less scenic than hoped, we changed our plans and decided to cut back via the vineyard road instead. But first a quick stop at a noted viewpoint. This "walk" promised panoramic views of the sound with just 10 minutes of walking. You'd think we would have learned from the day before...nope! On we went wearing only flip flops, up a steep path with knarled roots and what would be slippery muddy patches if it had been raining. The view from the top, though lovely, did not seem much better from what we had seen at the pull-out down below. At least we got our exercise for the day!

We continued on and after a few failed attempts of finding a winery to taste at (we think we just drove into the industrial area of their vineyard instead...whoops!), we discovered the perfect spot: Wairu Valley Winery. They had a lovely sitting area out back with views of their grapes and the mountains in behind. Baby happily lazed on a picnic bench while we enjoyed a glass and an appy then headed home for the night.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

NZ/Aus Days 7-8: Marlborough Sound

With a long drive ahead of us, we rose at 5:30 with Baby and started our day. Our first time packing up the car with all of our stuff + groceries proved successful so by 7:30 am, we were off! We fueled up Alexandra (we tried to think of a the name with the most vowels for our beloved car so we could practice our terrible New Zealand accents!), and hit the highway. Our route would take us through the mountains in the middle of the south island and up to its northern tip. We would have followed the coast and gone to Kaikoura but the road is still washed out after the recent earthquake.

Just one angle of our great deck view
For the most part, the drive went smoothly.  We stopped twice for Baby to eat, once on the side of the road and once at a cemetery, then a third time to stretch and get groceries. But mostly the day was spent watching the land change from coastline to forest to lush hills to valleys to vineyards and finally, to the beautiful region of Marlborough Sound. As we entered Picton, the hills opened to reveal a thin bay with many inlets and coves. We navigated to our Air BnB and settled in to eat dinner overlooking the spectacular scenery.

For our first full day in the area we chose a short 30 minute "walk" to a viewpoint of the sound. This was our first encounter with "walking" trails in New Zealand so we quickly learned that although trails seem well-signed with locations and time frames, they are missing some key information such as distances and elevation gains. We debated wearing flip flops but thankfully opted for hiking shoes at the last minute. We strapped Baby in the carrier (crying ensued...) and were off!

We walked first along a wide path framed by thorny bushes that warned, "stay on the path!" with their prickly pointers. After about 10 minutes, we reached the official trailhead that read 30 minutes. technically it's a 40 minute walk then, right? No big deal for us avid hikers from the Rockies, except that Erin is still recovering from her c-section so 30 minutes would already be her new recent record for walking. Deciding to forge onwards and turn back at the first glimmer of pain, we continued upwards. Sadly the trail was still banked with trees so we knew we had great views to the left but seldom got a peek of them.

Very proud of our first hike
with baby OUTSIDE the belly!

At the 40 minute mark, we crested a hill and a panorama of water and land stretched in front of us. We tossed Baby on our handy dandy Monkey Mat and enjoyed a well-deserved snack. Our down-day and "walk" had quickly become the most physical activity either of us had done since Baby's birth. It was great to feel those aching muscles again, to taste the fresh air, and to see the amazing sights that Mother Nature has to offer.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

NZ/Aus Days 5 & 6: Christchurch: A City Under Construction

Having only skirted the edge of Christchurch on our way in, we wanted to devote some time to seeing the town. So we packed a lunch and joined the traffic, circling roundabouts and zipping along the coast as we went. Craig navigated us right to the heart of downtown where we found parking and set off with Baby in the stroller.

It didn't take us long to realize that it was more than the main cathedral that was damaged in the 2011 earthquake. The whole city seemed to be under construction! We wove around piles of rubble, manhole covers, and lost our sidewalk more times than we could count. We'd highly recommend using a carrier instead of a stroller to carry your little one around! It was disappointing to see so much damage, but there is so much rebuild happening that it's like a rebirth. You could tell that the city has a vibrant art scene and the mix of traditional and modern architecture was interesting and pleasing to the eye. We would have liked to spend more time walking along the Avon River but so many of the paths were closed that it made route-finding a little challenging. We stumbled upon a funky container park with off-beat boutiques, cafes, and a Lululemon. We debated getting Baby out of the carrier to change her, solely so we could say we changed a diaper in a shipping container, but decided to leave her in peace.

A quick lunch at the edge of the botanical gardens wraped up our visit. We decided we'd gotten a taste of the town and although we didn't feel we would need to spend more time exploring it, Christchurch is a city we could see ourselves living in (once all of the road construction is finished!). We especially like its close location to a beautiful and vacant beach.

Speaking of which...we returned home, enjoyed a stroll in the sand, and spent the next day relaxing at this spot a block's walk from our apartment!

Baby's first steps on sand and in the ocean...
Terrible parents award? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

NZ/Aus Days 3 & 4: Akaroa

The beach a 5 minute walk from our flat

Baby did us a solid and slept for 16 hours our first night, waking only once to feed. That, coupled with it being only a four hour time change (because it's really a 20-hour time change), meant that we were feeling way better than we thought for our first day in New Zealand. It was cool and rainy so we stuck close to home to give Baby a chance to acclimatize and us the time to get settled. We drove into nearby New Brighton to get groceries, and do a brief walk along the boardwalk looking at the moody ocean. We gave her a bath and played lots. And most importantly, we ate some delicious lamb and sampled some wine from New Zealand! We all got another great sleep and were ready to start exploring the next morning.

Craig had mapped out a scenic driving tour of the area for us leading to the quaint town of Akoroa. Determined to keep our costs down, we packed a lunch, and what felt like half of our stuff, for a five hour round trip tour. Starting to feel more comfortable on the "wrong" side of the road, we jetted along the coast gathering altitude and views along the way. Each turn brought a new bay or inlet into sight nestled beneath towering mounds of dry grass and rock. Baby slept peacefully in the back allowing us a few quick stops for photos and a stretch. We got her out once to nurse on a picturesque bench overlooking Purau Bay. At this point, Google suggested turning back and retracing our steps but Craig, seeking a new path for our adventurous eyes, chose a route through the mountain pass.

The first pass was a lovely empty road with sweeping views in all directions as we decended to Port Levy. Continuing on we were confronted by a trio of warning signs. It seemed that to continue to Pigeon Bay was not suitible for campers or trailers, the road was narrow, and a giant '!'. Caustiously, we sped along at speeds up to 20 km/h as the two-way road was at times barely wide enough for one car, and was at its best wide enough for one car to dangle over the edge and the other to pass on the inside taking some shrubery with it.

At a corner we let a truck whiz past us, but quickly lost sight of it in the gnarled twists of a narrow canyon. Soon after we crested the pass, we came upon the truck, an ATV, and a whole heard of cows blocking the road. The rancher on the ATV instructed us to follow the truck bumper to bumper as it cleared a path. However the road was not wide enough and the hillside too steep for the cows to go anywhere but forward.

We backed off the truck's bumper, disappointing the rancher, when a cow slammed into the side of the truck. The loud crunch combined with thoughts of insurance paperwork filled Craig's head and we decided that we were not in a hurry. If we had to sit and watch a cow eat for a bit then so we would. After 10 minutes of inching along a second rancher was able to help get the cows to one side of the road at a wider section and we continued on our way undamaged.

The rest of the drive was also filled with great views around every corner, to the point where we maybe didn't enjoy them to the extent they deserved. Our turnaround spot was the town of Akoroa, a town that our guidebook proudly proclaims as the first settlement in the Cantebury region, forgetting that Māori arrived a few hundred years earlier. Steeped in French routes, there were bakeries, general stores, and a pretty waterfront to wander.

With the sun dipping closer to the horizon than we'd anticipated, we buckled a sleeping babe back up and opted for a more direct and well-travelled road for our return.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

NZ/Aus Trip Count

Places we've changed a diaper:
- In an airport
- On a plane
- On a bench
- In a car
- On a desk
- On a boat
- On the grass in a park
- In a stroller
- On a bullet train (Japan)

Nursing Venues
- In an airport
- On a plane
- On a bench
- In a car
- On a boat
- On a bed (this doesn't seem too exotic but for us it is... we're couch people)
- On parliament hill (we weren't taking as much of a stance as this sounds)
- In a museum

New Forms of Transit for Baby during our Balkans Trip:
- gondola
- motorboat
- shuttle van

New Forms of Transit for Baby during our Japan Trip:
- city bus
- subway
- streetcar
- bullet train

Monday, March 13, 2017

NZ/Aus Days 1, 2 & 3?: The 40 Hour Journey

Well, here we go...a new style of travel for us...with a baby! And we're starting big: a two month journey through New Zealand and Australia!!! We're going to lay this disclaimer out right at the start - you're going to be jealous of how amazing our baby is. There, we said it. We know we're incredibly lucky but we're also going to take all the credit. We're here to prove that you can still live the travel life post-childbirth. Or, at least, we're hoping to...

Baby determined when our first day began. We had gone to bed with our fingers crossed that she'd sleep until at least 3 am since we didn't actually need to be up until 4. We rose at 2:45 to feed her - not bad. There was no going back to sleep now. Our travel day had officially begun. It seemed she could sense our excitement. We tried putting her back to sleep after nursing so that we could finish our last-minute packing more efficiently, but she rolled around in her crib wide-eyed and laughing. She at least didn't need any attending to.

Without too much trouble, we got to the airport and through security and had enough time to eat a big breakfast before boarding our plane. The flight to L.A. was fairly uneventful. Baby nursed on the plane while everyone else was boarding and fell asleep at take off. So far she doesn't seem bothered by the pressure changes in her ears. She slept through us watching a movie and then played for a bit. I was thankful we'd brought our nursing pillow as she happily stretched out and kicked and slept on it.

It was Erin's first time in LAX and she quickly saw the truth to its reputation. After going in circles for a while and receiving dismissive unhelpful assistance from staff, we finally found our way out to street level and got ourselves to our nearby motel. The Super 8 Inglewood...yeeeah! It was actually really nice and suited our needs perfectly for the next few hours as we waited for our next flight. Baby played on the bed with the few toys we'd brought, slept in her stroller, and enjoyed our little outing to a great taco place for take-out (and we thought we wouldn't get to use Spanish on this trip!) She seemed a bit perplexed that she was able to be outside in a footless sleeper without multiple layers and coverings.

At 6pm we headed back to the airport, nervous because of the huge line we'd seen at security when we'd left. But it wasn't that bad and we ended up with an hour or so to kill before boarding. At this point it was well past Baby's  bedtime and she was definitely getting frustrated with the constant waking and falling asleep (needing to be taken out of the stroller at security, getting on the plane, etc). But it didn't take too long after take off for her to pass out and we were able to transfer her into the bassinet at the bulkhead. We'd been skeptical that she'd sleep in it but she was probably so exhausted at that point that she didn't notice. We were able to eat dinner and watch a movie/snooze for most of the flight. She held her normal routine of sleeping for 11-12 hours, walking only once to nurse. She fell asleep almost immediately after nursing, went back in the bassinet and timed it perfectly to wake up next right around the time they were slowly raising the lights to feed us breakfast. She even woke up the same way she does at home - laughing happily to herself.

All in all, it was a fantastic flight and we were so proud of our little traveller! We proceeded through customs where she got her first-ever passport stamp, collected our bags and switched terminals. This is where things started to break down a bit. Baby was upset nursing in the family washroom because other people could come in to change diapers, and upset with this last plane ride, falling asleep only right at the end, but it was thankfully a short flight (1.5 hours) and before we knew it, we'd navigated our way to our first Air BnB apartment. 40 hours in the books and we had a smiling, laughing baby at the end of it all, presumably just as glad as us to be back in a home.

P.S. I wasn't sure how to label the post since we technically lost an entire day to travel. So let's just go with this...